SALT LAKE CITY — A senate committee approved a bill to ban all elective abortions in the state of Utah — save for exceptions like rape, incest or endangered life of a mother — should the U.S. Supreme Court overturn Roe V. Wade.
The Senate Health and Human Services Committee debated the bill before a packed room, with every seat filled while additional members of the public lined the walls. Two Capitol law enforcement officers stood at the front of the room, separating the public from the committee. The panel warned the audience to be civil and cautioned that anyone who applauded or disturbed the meeting would be promptly removed.
SB174 sponsor Sen. Dan McCay, R-Riverton, explained that if Roe v. Wade is ever overturned, a contingency clause would propel the bill to legislative research and general counsel to ensure that the change could be made legally. If so, the ban would snap into place.
“There are plenty of legal scholars who believe the time is right for this decision to be reviewed,” McCay said. “The primary reason is how far we’ve come as a society in making this a hospitable place for people to have children.”
McCay said that if the bill were to take effect, a woman from Utah wanting to receive an abortion could go to Colorado, Oregon or any other state where it was still legal.
Sen. Jani Iwamoto, D-Salt Lake City, said she is greatly concerned by the bill’s provision declaring that a person would need to verify that rape or incest occurred to get an exception to the bill.
Forcing reporting takes perhaps the only control a victim has, Iwamoto said, pointing out that rape is one of the most underreported crimes.
McCay said the Utah Medical Association shares her concerns and that he agreed to work with them to refine the language going forward to see if there’s a way to balance that danger with the effect he hopes the bill would have.
Utah is currently caught in litigation over Rep. Cheryl Acton’s bill to prevent abortions after 18 weeks, which passed during the 2019 session.
Marina Lowe, legislative and policy counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah, touched on this point in her testimony Wednesday.
“Utah is once again participating in what seems like an almost annual tradition of increasing the restrictions on abortion that take place at the Utah Legislature,” she told the committee, pointing out that the state has passed 30 restrictions on abortion access within the past 45 years.
She also referenced a recent poll that reported as many as 80% of Utahns believe the state doesn’t need additional restrictions on abortions.
Merrilee Boyack, chair of Abortion Free Utah, pitched her support behind the bill because “Utah believes human life deserves protection.”
“Laws are changed by courageous people,” she said. “Despite the fact that Roe v. Wade still exists we have every right to state emphatically that Utahns support the protection of human life, especially the most vulnerable of our population.”
Both Democratic senators, who are also the only women on the committee, voted against the legislation, making the final passage 4-2.
Explaining her vote, Iwamoto said she respects every person who came out to testify and the choice that they made; however, the bill is not right.
“Having government intervene in one of the most personal experiences people encounter I believe is wrong,” she said. “I also see the contradictions in our own Legislature to mandate these personal and complex issues, but then not afford support or compassion at times for helping these mothers or their children once they are born.”
McCay said he sees it differently.
“People want to talk about choice. I understand that feeling and I understand that sentiment,” he said, but the “baby deserves a choice for life, as we all do. And I think that choice is important enough to protect from a state interest.”
The bill will now go before the full Senate for debate.