South Jordan lawmaker opens bill file on 'personhood'

Published: Thursday, Feb. 2 2012 7:53 p.m. MST

SALT LAKE CITY — A Utah lawmaker is mulling the possibility of legislation to define when life begins, although the measure’s future grew cloudier Thursday amid activists’ concerns and reporters’ questions.

Freshman Sen. Aaron Osmond, R-South Jordan, even apologized to his legislative colleagues for the attention the proposal has attracted.

“First of all I think it’s appropriate for me to start this conversation by apologizing to the Legislature that this issue has become a distraction, frankly, from the focus of what we’re doing here,” Osmond said before taking questions during a press availability outside the Senate President's office.

Osmond said he opened a bill file titled "Joint Resolution on Human Life" as  “an opportunity to open some dialogue" on the topic of "personhood" or when life begins — at conception or at birth.

Osmond declined to say where legislation might draw the line on life, or whether he was working toward a non-binding resolution, a constitutional amendment or nothing at all.

He said he had been approached and engaged on the issue by constituents. He declined to disclose who the constituents were.

But Utah Eagle Forum president Gayle Ruzicka said the topic came up at a meeting of the Utah Family Action Council, of which Osmond is a member.

“He’s the vice chairman of the coalition, so he was in the meeting anyway when it came up and he was asked if he’d be willing to do that and he said he’d be — like I said — we’re looking, we’re not saying we’re going to do it,” Ruzicka said.

Ruzicka said a measure could come up this session, next year or perhaps never. She had a clearer opinion of what she’d like the bill to say.

“It’ll just be a constitutional amendment that says in Utah we believe that life begins at conception,” Ruzicka said.

A super majority of lawmakers — two-thirds in each house — must approve a proposed amendment to the state's constitution. The measure would then go before voters in a general election.

That possibility is already sounding alarms at places like Planned Parenthood of Utah. Director Karrie Galloway said the consequences of such a measure could include litigation, and would reach far beyond abortion.

“In-vitro fertilization — and we have a strong program in Utah for assisting families and creating families when they need medical help — that would be called into question,” Galloway predicted. “Birth control can be called into question, depending on how the initiative is written. Life-saving medical interventions can be called into question — it’s a far-ranging issue that we’re bringing up.”

Galloway said she hoped to meet with Osmond next week and explain the broadness and impact of the issue.

At the Legislature, senate leaders defended their freshman senator and the process.

“I think we have to give him credit as being one that’s open to new ideas and one that’s open to collecting information and one that’s responsive to the public,” said Senate President Michael Waddoups, R-Taylorsville.

E-mail: aadams@ksl.com

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