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Bill to increase waiting period for abortion in Utah advances to House

Published: Friday, Feb. 24 2012 9:40 p.m. MST

Skies are sunny as the Utah State Legislature meets in Salt Lake City Jan. 27, 2012. A committee voted 4-1 to send HB461 to the Utah House Friday. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News) Skies are sunny as the Utah State Legislature meets in Salt Lake City Jan. 27, 2012. A committee voted 4-1 to send HB461 to the Utah House Friday. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — Women seeking abortions in Utah would face a 72-hour waiting period under a bill endorsed by the House Health and Human Services Committee late Friday evening.

Despite arguments that the change would place undue burdens on women, particularly those who live in remote, rural areas, the committee voted 4-1 to send HB461 to the Utah House.

The bill, sponsored by Republican Rep. Steve Eliason, would triple the current waiting period, which is 24 hours. Utah would have one of the nation's longest waiting periods between the initial consultation and the procedure.

Eliason, a freshman lawmaker from Sandy, 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.

Eliason said Planned Parenthood's website says some women feel anger, regret and sadness about undergoing an abortion.

"I personally know someone who has expressed those feelings. I don't think they're uncommon," he said.

Opponents argued that the bill was bad public policy because its true intent is to punish women who make the decision to have an abortion.

Heather Stringfellow, vice president of public policy for Planned Parenthood Association of Utah, noted the committee's earlier discussion Friday on a bill to further regulate the use of tanning beds by minors. During that debate, some lawmakers said the bill would infringe on personal liberties. Stringfellow said she hoped the same sensibility would apply to their deliberations over HB461.

"This is government overreach" for the Utah Legislature to intrude in a "private, personal decision," she said.

Meanwhile, Jean Hill of the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake, spoke in support of the bill. But she asked lawmakers to keep in mind that the majority of women who seek abortions live in poverty and lack access to health care.

Laura Bunker of United Families Utah also supported the bill, telling the committee that both of her children are adopted.

"Seventy two hours is not too much to ask for a life-altering decision that affects a woman, her child and generations to come."

But Marina Lowe of the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah said the proposed law is similar to a South Dakota law, against which a federal judge has issued a temporary injunction to prevent it from taking effect.

Planned Parenthood's challenge of the South Dakota law contends it violates a woman's constitutional right to abortion as established under the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling.

Lowe said HB461 would place an "undue burden on Utah women" because of the geographical nature of the state, a lack of public transportation off the Wasatch Front and because the state's only abortion provider is in Salt Lake County.

Rep. Rebecca Chavez-Houck, D-Salt Lake, attempted to amend the bill to allow initial consultations to occur by telephone or in person as an attempt to address the needs of women in remote, rural communities in Utah. The committee rejected the amendment.

Eliason said he does not believe women take lightly the decision to seek an abortion.

"I know a lot of heartache and sorrow goes into it. With that, it is a life altering decision with two people involved," he said. "Asking for more time is not detrimental."

E-mail: marjorie@desnews.com

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