Members of the Utah Abortion Task Force are still grappling with decisions about what restrictions to put into a legislative proposal.
The group has taken testimony, listened to experts and studied several different approaches to legislating abortion in view of recent Supreme Court decisions giving more power to the state to decide. During what was to be their final meeting on Friday, they failed to reach a consensus.Members of the task force disagree about how restrictive legislation should be - or whether there should be new legislation.
In an earlier meeting, the 14-member panel of lawmakers had decided that "in concept" they could allow abortions if the life or health of the mother was in danger, if an unborn child would be severely and irreparably handicapped or unable to sustain life, or in cases of rape and incest.
There is a move now to limit exceptions to a no-abortion rule to only those abortions needed to save the life of the mother. But it's unclear whether there's enough support on the panel to accomplish that.
Following extensive public hearings, some feelings have changed, said Rep. Reese Hunter, R-Salt Lake. "The message I've gotten is that people in favor of preserving the life of the baby want no exceptions except to save the life of the mother."
"If you have exceptions, they become loopholes," said Rep. Don Bush, R-Clearfield. "If we had an exception for rape, we'd probably have 4,800 more rapes. People born as a result of rape or incest certainly have as much right as those who weren't conceived that way. We should do what we think is right and not have exceptions. And we should not worry about the Supreme Court."
The panelists don't agree about what's right, however. Several believe Utah should leave its laws the way they are.
"For the sake of argument, let's accept the premise (the unborn child) is a citizen," said Rep. R. Haynes Fuller, D-Eden. "We can't keep a female citizen from determining the fate of a citizen living inside her body. What we can do is get rid of the opportunity to have a safe procedure.
"If abortion is a high crime, then the abortion seeker is the principal criminal. But no one suggests we punish her. We punish the doctor. I support the admonitions of churches against abortions. But if all we do is diminish safe abortions, what have we accomplished? Criminalization is not going to stop abortion. It's only going to stop safe ones."
"I, too, would like to see the abortion rate reduced," said Rep. Paula Julander, D-Salt Lake. "But I would like to see it reduced through education. I think we need to teach successful parenting skills. I would like to see us reduce abortion rates through life family education plans. It's a health issue."
"I see a real need - an exceptional need - for exceptions in restricting abortions," said Rep. Joanne Milner, D-Salt Lake. "No two people are alike. No case is the same. We have not faced the issue of family life education. We are failing to address the real issue."
The suggestion that rape victims or incest victims be forced to carry a child conceived in that manner is "heinous," she said.
The panel will meet again Monday, Nov. 19, in what the group's legislative analyst promises will be a "marathon, until we reach a decision."