The legislative drama over Utah's abortion issue boiled Monday night with pro-life and pro-choice activists accusing each other of hypocrisy or murder.
More than 50 people representing the two principal abortion camps spoke during the first of nine hearings conducted by the Legislature's Abortion Task Force, which will recommend new abortion legislation during the 1991 Legislature.Pro-lifers argued that from the moment of conception, the embryo or fetus is alive and that the government has a moral obligation to preserve it. Pro-choicers, on the other hand, argued that the decision to abort a pregnancy is to be made only by the woman and that the state has no right to interfere.
Approximately 200 people filled the Salt Lake County Commission chambers to listen to the emotional testimonies.
"This is a question of women's equality," said Pat Grogan, chairwoman of the Socialist Workers campaign to keep abortion legal. "The Supreme Court ruled that women - not husbands, not fathers, not clergies, not the government - have the right to make this decision.
"We will not permit these kinds of restrictions to go unanswered. . . . It is impossible to conceive of women's equality if someone else has the right to make this decision for us," Grogan said. "These bills should be completely rejected and the initial idea of Roe vs. Wade should be upheld."
But pro-lifer Mary Ann Jordan asked, "Since when do women have the right to have life or death power over someone? . . . Women pretty much make their choice when they get pregnant, but once a woman becomes pregnant she doesn't have the right to destroy someone else's life."
Pro-choicer Nancy Boyasko, however, said restricting or making abortion illegal will not stop women from seeking abortions.
"You will force them to seek back-alley and self-induced abortions . . . You will endanger these women's lives."
One of the most emotional testimonies came from pro-lifer Marceen Nelson, who said she had been advised by a medical authority to terminate one of her pregnancies.
With daughter Celest in her arms, Nelson said, "As you can see Celest is a very thriving and happy child. Inmates on death row have a chance to save their lives by proving a legal error occurred in their defense (but) unborn children are aborted due to one medical error . . . I want people to be aware that this is what they abort when they have that option, a happy child that brings love into your life."
Nancy Appleby, a pro-choicer, asked task force members to invest their efforts to increase sex education in schools.
"What do we accomplish if we force women to carry pregnancies to term? If we punish them for using their sex irresponsibly?" she asked. "We also punish the unfortunate children they bear.
"While I applaud the goal of decreasing the abortion rate, I ask you to go about achieving it in an intelligent and compassionate way."
Susanne Millsaps of the Utah chapter of the National Abortion Rights Action League said, "The issue is not whether abortion is right or wrong. The issue is who decides. Making abortion illegal is not going to make abortion go away. It is simply going to drive it back into the back allies."
"On what do you base these bills?" one member of the audience asked task force members after several testimonies. "What is the basis of your legislation?"
Sen. LeRay McAllister, R-Orem, chairman of the task force said, "The basis of our bills is to protect human life.
"I believe the Supreme Court in effect implied that this was the case (that life begins at conception). We have simply presumed that the fetus is alive and that we desire to protect that life," McAllister added.
McAllister said the three bills considered would probably be rewritten and that the task force will consider all sides of the controversial issue. "We hope to ultimately refine the language that will be presented in those bills in January, but these are simply three that we thought people are interested in.
"I have been contacted by many people and I'm basically responding to the comments that have been given to me by my constituents and to a personal conviction which I have."
Others in the audience accused the task force of being biased, but McAllister said task force members were appointed by the leadership of the House and the Senate to represent both sides of the issue.
Task force looks at 3 abortion bills
- The abortions-limitation bill would allow an abortion only if it were needed to save the mother's life or prevent serious injury, if the pregnancy resulted from rape or incest that had been reported to the police, or if the child would be born with irreparable and severe physical or mental disabilities "incompatible to sustain life." A second doctor, unconnected with the first, would have to support the assessment that the child would be disabled.
An abortion, if performed, would have to take place in a hospital after the first trimester of pregnancy.
- The proposed abortion amendments would prohibit abortion with the same exceptions. But they provide that no abortion can be performed after eight weeks gestation "if the above requirement is ever temporarily restrained or enjoined by judicial order." However, an abortion would be allowed to save the life of the pregnant woman or to prevent serious damage to her health.
- The final bill, titled "Limiting Birth Control Abortions," was introduced in the House of Representatives during the last legislative session and carried 18 cosponsors, in addition to sponsor Rep. Pat Nix, R-Orem.
The legislation also carries the same exceptions as the other bills: rape, incest, severe impairment or a threat to the mother's life and health.
It also allows for an injunction against the person performing or trying to perform an abortion. Under the bill, the attorney general, a county attorney, a woman "who was given or about to be given an abortion," the parent of a minor upon whom an abortion was attempted or given, and the father of the unborn child all have the legal right to petition the court for a permanent injunction.