Advocates weighing options after Herbert signs abortion bill

Published: Wednesday, March 21 2012 5:31 p.m. MDT

In this April 13, 2011 photo, Becky Kolb, an X-ray technician trained in obstetric ultrasound, shows an exam room where technicians give sonograms at the Alpha Center in Sioux Falls, S.D. A new law requires women to wait 72 hours before getting an abortion.

Dirk Lammers, Associated Press

Enlarge photo»

SALT LAKE CITY — Now that Gov. Gary Herbert has signed into law legislation that establishes the nation's longest waiting period for an abortion, advocates for women and civil rights are planning their next move.

Both the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah and Planned Parenthood Association of Utah had asked Herbert to veto HB461, which triples the current waiting period between the initial consultation and the procedure to 72 hours. The organizations are now considering the constitutional concerns raised by law "and what our next course of action might be," said Marina Lowe, legislative and policy counsel for ACLU Utah.

Asked if the parties planned to file a lawsuit to stop the law from taking effect, Lowe said, a legal review is under way. "I can't commit further than that at this point."

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Steve Eliason, R-Sandy, received strong support in both houses of the Republican-led Utah Legislature. The bill was also supported by The Eagle Forum and The Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake.

Herbert's spokeswoman Ally Isom said the governor is "an adamant supporter of rights for the unborn and felt the bill appropriately allows a woman facing such a decision to fully weigh her options and implications of that decision. As the sponsor correctly pointed out, an abortion cannot be undone. 

"We believe a court will find 72 hours waiting period is not an undue burden."

While the Supreme Court has upheld a 24-hour waiting period, no state has a 72-hour waiting period. "The only exception to that is South Dakota, which passed a similar sort of bill, which immediately went into litigation," Lowe said Tuesday. A federal judge enjoined the South Dakota law, which prevented it from going into effect.

Lowe said the new Utah law "puts us on the outer edges, on the fringe, of what is acceptable."

Utah's law unduly burdens women who live out of state and seek abortion services in Utah, such as women in Idaho, Wyoming and northern Nevada, Lowe said. The closest abortion providers for some of those areas are in Salt Lake City, she said. They would have to travel to Utah for a consultation from a health care provider then wait 72 hours for the procedure.

"This does affect actual women. This isn't a theoretical argument," Lowe said.

Another constitutional concern is that the law establishes no exception for fetal anomaly.

"What is the state's interest in making the woman wait 72 hours after she's been told her fetus is not viable?" Lowe said. Other abortion laws passed in Utah in recent years provide for this exception. Lowe said it is "curious" that this one does not.

Eliason did not return email or telephone messages asking for comment on Tuesday. While he spoke for the bill during floor debate and during an earlier committee hearing, he left through a back door of the committee room at the conclusion of the meeting and made no further comment. 

Matt Piccolo, policy analyst for the conservative think tank Sutherland Institute, supported the governor's decision to sign the bill.

"An abortion is a decision that can have lifelong impact on a woman and her family," said Piccolo. "Given the emotional, physical and psychological impacts on a woman who has an abortion, we think it is reasonable to have waiting period so she can fully understand and think about the consequences of that choice."

Passing this sort of law assumes women don't take sufficient time to reflect upon undergoing an abortion, Lowe said.

"Women don't make this decision lightly. They are thinking about it. They are giving it due thought. The requirement that state is making them wait 72 hours additionally, is nothing more than a burden."

E-mail: marjorie@desnews.com

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