SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Legislature approved three abortion bills in 2011 session, including one calling for more frequent inspections of abortion clinics.

Democrats unsuccessfully tried to amend all three, which were sponsored by Rep. Carl Wimmer, R-Herriman, before the Republican-controlled House and Senate overwhelmingly passed them.

HB353, would expand freedom of conscience provisions allowing doctors to refuse to perform abortions, making it clear they can't be fired and extending the protection to hospitals.

"Why aren't we giving the woman and her physician the opportunity in good conscience, in good faith the ability to make those choices?" said Sen. Gene Davis, D-Salt Lake, during Senate debate. "Instead we try to be the conscience."

Wimmer told lawmakers in House debate they were making a policy decision about whether a doctor should "be forced to perform an abortion as part of his duties if it violates his moral or ethical believes."

"Anything we can do to shut this door tighter, we should do," said Sen. Chris Buttars. "It's an ugly, ugly thing."

A Democratic amendment to make an exception in the cases of pregnancy due to rape and incest failed. Sen. Pat Jones, D-Holladay, said, "If it were your daughter or granddaughter … who would you have make this decision? She and her family or the Legislature?"

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HB354 allows health insurance companies to opt out of covering elective abortions under the new federal health care plan.

Sen. Ross Romero, D-Salt Lake, called the bill an overreach of government regulation. The market should control the coverage private insurance companies offer, he said.

HB171 requires the Utah Department of Health to inspect without notice the state's three abortion clinics twice a year. All three clinics are located in Salt Lake County. Doctors' offices that perform elective abortions also must undergo the semi-annual inspections.

E-mail: romboy@desnews.com