SALT LAKE CITY — A Utah abortion prohibition bill cleared its first vote in the Senate 21-6 Friday with support along party lines, meaning it’s likely to win approval from the Senate in a final vote.
SB174 would prohibit abortion except in cases of rape or incest; to prevent the death or “substantial impairment” of the woman if she gives birth; or if the fetus has a lethal birth defect or severe brain abnormality that would cause it to be in a vegetative state. The bill would make it a second-degree felony to perform an abortion that doesn’t meet one of those criteria.
“This is our responsibility, is to have these arguments, to have these discussions,” bill sponsor Sen. Daniel McCay, R-Riverton, said after passionate remarks both in support and against the bill before the Senate voted.
The bill would only take effect if a court of binding authority, such as the U.S. Supreme Court, in the future holds that a state may prohibit the abortion of an unborn child at any time during the gestational period, other than in the cases of the exemptions.
Dehumanization happens by changing definitions and marginalizing people, McCay said, and that has happened in the case of fetuses in the abortion debate. The concept of a woman’s “rights” in the debate also marginalizes one person’s rights at the benefit of another, he said.
“My rights stop when it hurts someone else,” McCay said. And government’s “primary function is to protect life.”
Sen. Karen Mayne, D-West Valley City, said she has adopted children, “and someone gave them the choice to give them breath.”
Often, doctors are coming to mothers telling them there’s something wrong with their fetuses and giving them their choices, Mayne said.
“I don’t think we even should be there when those sensitive choices are made with the facts. ... I’m just not there. I don’t have the wisdom to make those choices for those people,” Mayne said.
Sen. Gene Davis, D-Salt Lake City, said Roe v. Wade prevented women from seeking abortions in back alleys. He said the bill would take away the “right of privacy of women to make a choice.” Abortions won’t disappear if they become illegal, he added.
“If that decision (to abort) is made, it should be made in a safe environment that protects that individual’s life,” Davis said.
Sen. Jake Anderegg, R-Lehi, spoke in support of the bill, saying that other than in cases such as rape or incest, which would be exempted under in the bill, women do have the choice in the act to procreate.
It’s wrong “for government to intervene to help shield the consequences of that previous choice. Because there is a beating heart. Because there is a human at stake,” Anderegg said.
Earlier Friday, a bill that would require doctors to show a woman her ultrasound before performing an abortion also ignited a heated debate, but ultimately no vote was taken.
“Best information leads to the best decision, and this bill is all about that,” Rep. Stephen Christiansen, R-West Jordan, said.
Presenting the bill to members of the House Judiciary Committee, Christiansen focused on the physical and emotional risks associated with abortion and how he believes the ultrasound requirement would address those risks by convincing many women not to abort.
HB364 would require the medical provider to describe the images produced in the ultrasound to the woman and make the fetal heartbeat audible, if possible. The woman would be able to choose not to look at the images or listen to the heartbeat, according to the bill, as well as ask that the sound of the heartbeat be reduced or turned off.
Lindsey Tafengatoto, a post-abortion outreach director for Pro-Life Utah, helped Christiansen present the bill. Many women who’ve had an abortion that she’s worked with felt they were misled going into the procedures, Tafengatoto said.
“A huge regret that these women carry with them is not seeing their own baby. I’ve heard with each healing session that an ultrasound ... would’ve changed their minds,” she said.
The bill would preserve exceptions including rape and incest. It is one of several bills that address abortion this session, including one that would require aborted or miscarried fetal remains to be buried or cremated.
When the meeting opened for public comment, Marcela Smid, an obstetrician and gynecologist, said: “This bill would require me as a practicing obstetrician to go against a standard of care.”
She called the bill a “government intrusion into medical practice.”
When asked whether women are still being told their fetuses are “clumps of cells” — a complaint of many anti-abortion advocates — Smid said she knows of “no abortion provider, nor have I ever in counseling a woman about a termination, referred to an embryo as a clump of cells.”
Dusty Johns, a mother of six, said that before having an abortion, she was given an ultrasound that she wasn’t allowed to see. She was told her baby was a clump of tissue.
Had she been given a chance to view the ultrasound, Johns said she would have seen that her son looked like a “gummy bear.” His heartbeat would’ve been “beating loud and strong,” she said. Had she known that, Johns said she would have delivered the baby and seen him graduate in the spring.
When asked what exactly a woman would be required to do, Christiansen said Utah law already requires a woman to wait 72 hours before receiving an abortion after going through an “information module” about the risks. The new bill would require she also receive an ultrasound from a provider of her choosing before the 72-hour period.
The bill would require doctors or providers to provide written confirmation to the woman that she has received the ultrasound, as well as keep records of it. If the provider does not perform an ultrasound, he or she would be required to pay a fine of up to $100,000 the first time and up to $250,000 each subsequent instance.