SALT LAKE CITY — Utah's new law banning abortion after 18 weeks gestation won't be enforced for now.
A federal judge issued a preliminary injunction Thursday stopping the law from taking effect while the Planned Parenthood Association of Utah and the state argue the case in court. Both parties agreed to the injunction.
"The plaintiff and state defendants acknowledge and agree that this case raises important questions that deserve thoughtful and careful consideration," according to a joint filing in U.S. District Court.
Meantime, Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill, who Planned Parenthood named as a defendant in its lawsuit, said he won't enforce the law. The only clinic in the state that would be affected is in Salt Lake County.
Gill, a Democrat, said enforcement of the law passed by the Legislature as HB136, would run afoul of established federal law. The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, of which Utah is part, struck down a similar but less restrictive abortion ban state lawmakers passed more than 20 years ago.
"There is no indication the more restrictive 18-week ban in HB136 is likely to fare any better," he said.
Gill said we would not prosecute anyone under the law "unless and until" the U.S. Supreme Court or the 10th Circuit reverses course and says it would be constitutional to do so.
The state agreed to the injunction "without admission of wrongdoing or constitutional violation," which would prevent the state from enforcing the law until the case is resolved.
"Since we expect this case or one like it to be elevated to the U.S. Supreme Court, this injunction lets both the state and the plaintiffs carefully and thoughtfully build factual records in support of their positions," Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes said in a statement.
Reyes, a Republican, said the state would "vigorously" defend the law and explain why it protects the most vulnerable in society.
"Besides presenting questions about the fundamental right of the unborn to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, as well as the health and safety of the mother and her rights, the case raises important questions about governmental power and the proper role of courts," he said.
In a hearing Thursday, U.S. District Judge Clark Waddoups outlined a schedule for the parties to argue over whether he should allow the state time to gather evidence about whether a fetus is viable at 18 weeks. Planned Parenthood attorney Julie Murray objected to allowing the state that time.
Rep. Cheryl Acton, R-Provo, the bill's sponsor, attended the first hearing and said she is OK with the injunction.
"I'm just here to observe and I really have no say in it anymore," she said. "The bill is more complicated than just a ban, so hopefully they'll bring all that out."
Planned Parenthood sued the state, arguing the ban is unconstitutional and that no fetus is viable at 18 weeks.
"Accordingly, the 18-week ban is in flagrant violation of more than four decades of settled Supreme Court precedent, starting with Roe v. Wade, which held that a woman has a protected right to end a pregnancy," the lawsuit says.
Since that Supreme Court decision, no court has upheld a law banning abortion prior to viability, according to the lawsuit.
The bill originally set the limit for legal abortions at 15-weeks gestation, but it was revised to 18 weeks before the Republican-controlled Legislature passed it largely along party lines.
While the law shortens the legal abortion window, it maintains a woman's right to have an elective abortion, allowing exceptions for rape, incest, life or permanent impairment of the mother, and fatal fetal defects or severe brain abnormality.
Karrie Galloway, Planned Parenthood president and CEO, said the injunction means there will be no disruption in care for the Utah women seeking abortion services at or after 18 weeks.
"Every person deserves the right to decide whether and when to become a parent, and we will continue to fight to protect the constitutional rights of Utahns to access safe, legal abortion," she said.