Utah advances legislation to ban clinics that offer only abortion

sonogram fetus A sonogram picture of a fetus in the second trimester of a woman's pregnancy | Shutterstock

Last Friday the Utah House of Representatives passed some of the strongest pro-life legislation advanced since the reversal of Roe v. Wade. If passed by the state’s Senate and signed into law, the measures effectively would shut down abortion clinics that only offer abortion and would also help victims of rape and incest.

The two bills passed the Utah House in strictly party-line votes, 53-14.

Though Utah has pro-life supermajorities in both houses of the Legislature, abortion is currently legal in Utah until 18 weeks of pregnancy. A “trigger law” was passed in 2020 to go into effect with the overturning of Roe v. Wade. The law would ban abortion through all stages of pregnancy, but it remains blocked in the courts due to a legal challenge by Planned Parenthood Association of Utah and the Utah chapter of the ACLU.

The first bill, sponsored by Rep. Karianne Lisonbee, a Republican, prohibits abortions outside of hospitals and bans clinics that only offer abortion. 

Further, the bill prohibits the licensing of abortion clinics after May 2, 2023, and makes it a criminal offense for out-of-state actors to prescribe abortion drugs to Utahns.

The Utah House Democratic Caucus decried the bill as “a direct attack on reproductive health care.”

Planned Parenthood Action Council of Utah posted on Twitter that the bill “would shutter all abortion clinics in (Utah) and make this essential health care MUCH more inaccessible and expensive for #Utahns.”

Lisonbee pushed back on the claim that her bill would close abortion clinics, saying that providers like Planned Parenthood can continue offering other health services and abortions in limited exceptions.

Doctors performing abortions in fetal anomaly cases will now be required to inform the mother that perinatal hospice care, which is care for infants with short life expectancies, is available as an alternative to abortion.

“As a state, we deeply value human life at all stages and in all circumstances,” Lisonbee said. “It is the state’s responsibility to protect the most vulnerable, and that includes the unborn.”

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox, a Republican, signaled his support for the bill, saying in a Feb. 16 news conference that he “feels pretty good” about the bill and that the 18-week cutoff gives “plenty of time for a decision to be made.”

The second pro-life bill sponsored by Rep. Kera Birkeland, also a Republican, expands care for rape and incest victims. The bill provides health care for the victim and the child during the resulting pregnancy and for the first year after the child is born. The bill also further expands already existing laws that doctors performing abortions on rape or incest victims verify the crime with authorities.

Both bills limit abortions performed in the rape and incest exceptions to the first 18 weeks of pregnancy.

Having cleared the House, both bills will now advance to the Utah Senate, which is majority Republican.

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