Health Department Seeks to Clarify Abortion Law

Health Department Seeks to Clarify Abortion Law

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Attempting to clarify a new state law that pulls public funding from hospitals performing certain abortions, the Utah Department of Health says providers can conduct the procedures so long as they document that public money won't be used to support them.

The rule, announced Thursday, came in response to a law that makes it a crime for doctors, clinics or hospitals that receive any state funding -- directly or indirectly -- to perform abortions except in cases of rape, incest or the likelihood that a woman would suffer "permanent, irreparable and grave damage to a major bodily function" if she delivers.

Since most large hospitals don't perform so-called elective abortions, the law allowed leeway in all cases that concerned them except instances of grave fetal deformity.

"Without an exemption in the law that included grave fetal deformity, as we've seen from the few situations that have come up since the law was passed, it inhibited providers' ability to provide adequate care," said Kim Wirthlin, assistant vice president for health sciences at the University of Utah.

Those situations include high-profile cases like that of Suzie Combe, a Roy woman who had to go to a clinic instead of her preferred hospital to have her fatally deformed fetus aborted.

Under the rule, health care providers must prove that if they lose money on that type of abortion -- on a charity case, for example -- that no public money would be funneled to make up the difference, said Doug Springmeyer, an assistant Utah attorney general who handles the Health Department.

Sen. Curtis Bramble, R-Orem, said the rule was consistent with the law he sponsored in this year's legislative session. However, he said the fact that it didn't differ substantially from the law meant it wasn't needed.

"All of the rhetoric about what that rule did to a couple that's being called a tragedy is certainly not accurate," Bramble said. "It was hospitals that declared they had to eliminate those procedures. Now they find they didn't have to do it at all, so why did they do it?"

He also said lawmakers intended to amend the 2004 law to include grave fetal deformity as an acceptable reason for an abortion.

That was proposed in an amendment, which Bramble said he supported, but was eventually defeated.

(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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