ACLU, Planned Parenthood ask Gov. Herbert to veto abortion bill requiring 72-hour wait

Published: Friday, March 16 2012 2:56 p.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — Describing it as "the most extreme law in the nation," the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah has asked Utah Gov. Gary Herbert to veto legislation that establishes a 72-hour waiting period between initial consultation and an abortion procedure.

Planned Parenthood Association of Utah has also asked for a veto of HB461, calling it a "draconian measure" that is likely unconstitutional.

"If this bill were to be enacted, it would impose substantial obstacles in the path of women seeking an abortion in Utah, rendering it unconstitutional under Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey," Karrie Galloway, CEO of Planned Parenthood Association of Utah, wrote in letter to Herbert at the conclusion of the legislative session.

HB461, recently passed by the Utah Legislature, received strong support in both Houses of the Republican-controlled body. The bill was supported by the Utah Eagle Forum, the Sutherland Institute, a conservative think tank, and the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City. 

While proponents argued the 72-hour waiting period was imposed to allow women sufficient time to make an informed decision, "in reality, this bill is merely an effort to punish women who plan to have an abortion and will only result in delaying the procedure," Galloway wrote.

If the Utah Legislature wants to reduce the number of abortions, it should focus on "increasing access to contraception and information how to avoid unintended pregnancy," she wrote.

State lawmakers also approved controversial legislation that would limit sex education curriculum to abstinence-only instruction.

The abortion bill had not yet been sent to the governor's office, Herbert's spokeswoman Ally Isom said Friday. "Once it arrives, it will receive, as does every bill, a thorough legal review and policy analysis with staff consultation before the governor takes a position," she said.

HB461, sponsored by freshman lawmaker Rep. Steve Eliason, R-Sandy, triples the current waiting period between initial consultation and the procedure.

Eliason said waiting periods generally relate to consumer protections. In the case of seeking an abortion, extending the waiting period to obtain an abortion would give women time to fully consider the ramifications of their decision.

"Asking for more time is not detrimental," Eliason said during committee debate. 

The bill was amended to allow women to obtain an initial consultation anywhere in the state.

The amendment "may have the unintended consequence of substantially and unconstitutionally burdening women outside of Utah who obtain abortions in our state," the ACLU letter said, explaining that women would either have to wait three days in the state or make long trips to obtain abortion services.

"This creates a substantial obstacle in the path of women seeking abortion, which is precisely what the Supreme Court has said is unconstitutional. Moreover, the unequal treatment of out-of-state women is not likely consistent with the intent of the amendment."

The legislation also fails to recognize "an exception for fetal anomaly," according to the ACLU of Utah letter dated March 14. It was signed by executive director Karen McCreary, legislative and policy counsel Marina Lowe and legal director John Mejia.

"Requiring a woman to wait 72 hours upon discovering the fetus she is carrying will not survive pregnancy is nothing short of cruel, and certainly could not survive constitutional scrutiny," the letter said.

The three-page letter also reminded Herbert that a federal court in 2011 enjoined South Dakota's 72-hour waiting period. In that case, the plaintiffs "demonstrated that they are likely to succeed on their claim that the 72-hour requirement constitutes an undue burden on a woman's ability to obtain an abortion.

Galloway said seeking an abortion is "a confidential situation for many people. They have to take time off work and arrange child care. That can be problematic for people."

The bottom line, she said, is that HB461 "is an infringement on a woman's right to access health care in an easy manner. It's jumping through hoops."

E-mail: marjorie@desnews.com

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