Utah will likely have some kind of new restrictive abortion law after the 1991 Legislature ends next February, most people involved with the controversial issue believe.
Even though two Utah House leaders in the anti-abortion fight won't be back next year, there will be some kind of abortion-restricting bill introduced. And, if the bill is reasonable considering recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings, it will likely pass.In the Sept. 11 primary election, Rep. Pat Nix, R-Orem, was defeated by a less conservative Republican. Rep. Jeril Wilson, R-Provo, had already decided not to seek re-election this year. But Nix's and Wilson's absence shouldn't stop the anti-abortion movement in the Legislature, most agree.
The pair's tough bill - which outlawed abortion "as a form of birth control" except in cases where the mother's life is in danger, rape, incest or fetal deformity that would result in death - ultimately died a quiet death in the House Rules Committee last session. But its demise came only after opposition from Gov. Norm Bangerter and other Republicans and the intervention of a Brigham Young University legal scholar, who convinced the bill's backers it had little chance before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Bangerter, a Republican who wants tougher abortion laws, opposed Nix's bill, saying other anti-abortion laws were already in the federal court pipeline, headed for the Supreme Court. He also said her bill would cost possibly $1 million in scarce state funds to defend in court, and that the bill was almost sure to fail in court.
An abortion task force was formed after the session and is still working toward drafting a bill for the January 1991 session.
"The task force will have a bill, I'm sure," said Rosa Goodnight, president of the local chapter of Right To Life, a pro-life group. The question remains: Will it be a bill that Bangerter and most lawmakers can support?
Rep. Mont Evans, R-Riverton, introduced his own anti-abortion bill last session. It was a modest bill that state officials maintained did nothing more to restrict abortions than was already current practice. He withdrew it when Nix and Wilson withdrew theirs after Bangerter won the day, pleading for legislators to wait at least a year on the abortion question.
"Before any pro-life bills will pass the Legislature, the pro-life forces have to get together. One side can't try to stampede their (staunch) pro-life bill through. It won't work. There must be compromise," says Evans. He's referring to Right To Life's previous arguments that only a bill that will greatly restrict abortion is acceptable.
"I don't believe there is a split among pro-life groups," countered Goodnight. "We have the same goal. True, some want to take different approaches."
And Right To Life's approach is straight on. "We want to save babies. There are some people who are more concerned about saving money that saving babies." Where does Bangerter fall among those groups?
"We're not satisfied at all with the governor's approach. He's worried about saving money, avoiding costly court battles," she said.
Bud Scruggs, Bangerter's chief of staff, said, "We don't put a price tag on morality. But actions by some in this area threaten harm to the cause they advance, and they won't understand that."
For example, Scruggs said the Nix bill of last session was "clearly" unconstitutional, it would have cost a lot of money to defend, a defense that wouldn't have succeeded. Worse, the striking down of that Utah abortion law by the Supreme Court could actually set legal precedent and harm future anti-abortion attempts.
"Does Norm Bangerter want to restrict abortions? Yes. Does he want to waste money on futile gestures? No," said Scruggs. "We're keeping an open mind on what the task force brings forth. If it takes the next logical step that the court will allow, we're with it. But if (the task force) brings forth (the same Nix bill of a year ago or a close clone), we'll be disappointed."
Nix, who will sit on the task force through the drafting process, but won't be in the House in January, said she hopes the task force bill "will take us clearly to the line" that is constitutional, but also a bit beyond.
"I think we should have some challenge (in court). I'm gathering now opinions of the legal scholars throughout the nation. And almost without exception, they're telling me that we can do just about anything we want on abortion and the Supreme Court will uphold it."
Nix wants the bill to include informed consent by a pregnant woman seeking an abortion, which would include anti-abortion counseling and a 48-hour waiting period; spousal notification; parental notification and consent before abortions could be performed on minor females; and operating restrictions on medical facilities that conduct abortions.