Hundreds of new laws taking effect in Utah

By Josh Loftin

Associated Press

Published: Saturday, May 5 2012 2:18 p.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — Opponents of a 72-hour waiting period for abortions in Utah don't plan a legal challenge before the law takes effect on Tuesday, despite some similarities to a South Dakota law that has been put on hold by a federal judge.

The Utah law, while burdensome to women, doesn't have other restrictions that raised constitutional concerns in South Dakota, said Karrie Galloway, the executive director of Planned Parenthood of Utah. Most notably, women are not required to seek counseling at pregnancy help centers that discourage abortions.

While doctors throughout the state are permitted to conduct the initial counseling session, Galloway said it isn't clear who will coordinate that information with the abortion clinics. But the group will adhere to the law, despite the new hurdles.

"It's only there to punish women, to force them to make the decision legislators want them to make," Galloway said about the waiting period. "But we will make it work, even though it's a hindrance to women and difficult for us to implement."

Karen McCreary of the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah said they don't have plans to challenge the law immediately, either. But the organization is monitoring the waiting period's impact and could pursue a lawsuit if it violates a woman's right to an abortion.

When the law takes effect, Utah will have the longest enforced waiting period in the country. About half of the states require a woman to wait for 24 hours for an abortion after receiving counseling from a medical professional, according to the reproductive health organization Guttmacher Institute.

"It establishes a very important consumer protection in a matter that is life or death," said Rep. Steve Eliason, R-Sandy, the sponsor of the law. "It's important that a woman understands the ramifications of her decision, and what her options are, without being pressured."

The abortion waiting period is one of about 275 new laws going into effect Tuesday. Other notable laws include tighter restrictions on when people can shoot fireworks and an increased bounty for killing coyotes.

Utah County prosecutor Craig Johnson said he will use a law going into effect Tuesday to seek the forcible commitment of Lonnie Johnson at the State Hospital or a group home for the mentally retarded.

Lonnie Johnson is charged with multiple rapes and sexual assaults, but has remained free because of a legal loophole that has prevented him from being tried on the charges or committed to the state mental hospital, where doctors couldn't restore his competency.

Associated Press newsperson Paul Foy contributed to this report.

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