Utah Gov. Cox signs abortion clinic ban, other bills into law

Gov. Spencer Cox speaks at the state Capitol on Jan. 23. Cox signed an additional 176 bills from the Utah Legislature on Tuesday and 71 on Wednesday.

Gov. Spencer Cox speaks at the state Capitol on Jan. 23. Cox signed an additional 176 bills from the Utah Legislature on Tuesday and 71 on Wednesday. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

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SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Gov. Spencer Cox signed an additional 247 bills into law this week, including one that would ban abortion clinics in the state next year.

Cox had previously signaled he would approve HB467, which will stop licensing new abortion clinics after May 2, and effectively ban legal abortions in clinics beginning in January 2024.

Bill sponsor Rep. Karianne Lisonbee, R-Clearfield, said her bill still allows clinics like Planned Parenthood to perform other services. But the bill would require that all abortions be performed in hospitals or similar settings. Sen. Daniel McCay, R-Riverton, was the floor sponsor of the bill.

Anti-abortion groups praised Cox's decision to sign the bill. In a news release, the Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America organization stated, "Planned Parenthood's days of profiting at the expense of unborn lives in Utah could be numbered."

"Abortion clinics are not medical facilities," said Adam Schwend, the group's western regional director. "Planned Parenthood and the rest of the abortion industry exist to generate a profit by taking lives of unborn children, rather than to care for patients. They generally do not have to abide by the same regulatory standards as health clinics, and this puts women at risk. We thank Gov. Cox, Rep. Lisonbee and Sen. McCay for establishing these new safeguards for the unborn and women's health, and continuing to advance a culture of life in Utah."

Critics say that could make abortion more costly and inaccessible for women who qualify for an abortion under Utah law.

"Planned Parenthood Association of Utah is exploring all options to preserve access to abortion in Utah ahead of HB467's effective date," Planned Parenthood President and CEO Karrie Galloway said in a news release Wednesday evening.

HB467 would also completely remove Utah's rape and incest exemption for abortion after 18 weeks of pregnancy.

Utah has one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the nation, but all abortions are currently legal through 18 weeks of pregnancy while that so-called "trigger ban" is held up in court. The Utah Supreme Court could rule on that law in the coming months.

If the trigger ban is allowed to stand, all elective abortions will be banned in the state, with exceptions in cases of rape or incest, if the fetus has a fatal abnormality, or if the life of the mother is at risk.

Women would still be able to seek abortion in other states where it is legal. A California-based Planned Parenthood network attempted to open a clinic in West Wendover, Nevada, but the city council declined to issue a zoning permit.

The nearest out-of-state clinics are located in Durango and Glenwood Springs, Colorado, where abortion rights are protected by state law.

Other bills

Cox has now signed 349 bills this year, of the record 575 bills passed by the Utah Legislature. March 23 is the last day the governor can sign or veto any bills passed during the recent session.

Here's a list of some of the other prominent bills Cox signed into law, and what they do:

  • Along with a bill that would require police to conduct lethality assessments when responding to reports of domestic violence, lawmakers passed a bill to create a task force to make recommendations for collecting data on domestic violence in the state. Rep. Candice Pierucci, R-Herriman, said her bill, HB43, would make it easier for the state to compare "apples to apples" when collecting data from domestic violence around the state.
  • Under HB108, it's now illegal in Utah to possess, distribute or purchase sex dolls that are made to look like children. The bill's sponsor, Rep. Matthew Gwynn, R-Farr West, who also serves as the Roy police chief, said such dolls have been found in several recent child pornography investigations.
  • Defendants accused of stealing livestock will no longer be able to argue that the animal was sick, injured or a liability to the owner in their defense. HB114 amends court defenses after several animal activists were found not guilty after taking sick piglets from a farm in Beaver County. Sponsor Rep. Carl Albrecht, R-Richfield, said the bill will protect farmers and agricultural producers.
  • Cox signed another bill sponsored by Pierucci, which requires that high school athletes be allowed to wear religious or modest garments while competing. HB163 also stipulates that organizations have to provide the garment if they require it to be a specific color, style or material.
  • One of several high-profile abortion bills, HB297 would expand support services for victims of rape, and require that police departments develop policies and training for handling sexual assault allegations. Sponsored by Rep. Kera Birkeland, R-Morgan, the bill provides health care to women who become pregnant after being raped for the duration of the pregnancy and up to a year after they give birth.
  • Cox signed HB347, which would increase the penalty for tampering with ballot drop boxes. Rep. Michael Petersen, R-North Logan, said his bill would make drop box tampering a third-degree felony, which comes with up to five years in prison and a fine up to $5,000.
  • The Unified Police Department in Salt Lake County will be dissolved on July 1, 2025, after Cox signed HB374. Cities that contract with the Unified police for services will have until then to create their own law enforcement agencies, contract with the county sheriff or form their own interlocal agreement for policing. HB374 was sponsored by Rep. Jordan Teuscher, R-South Jordan.

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Bridger Beal-Cvetko covers Utah politics, Salt Lake County communities and breaking news for KSL.com. He is a graduate of Utah Valley University.


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