Strong pro-choice sentiment emerged only at two of a series of public hearings held throughout the state by the Utah Abortion Task Force, the panel's co-chairman says.
Crowds were clearly pro-choice at the first of nine hearings on the issue in Salt Lake City and at the final hearing in Logan on Wednesday, said Rep. Evan Olsen, R-Young Ward.Olsen said the 15-member task force will meet Friday and attempt to summarize public input gathered at the hearings, then come up with a compromise bill to be presented to the Legislature as soon as possible.
Three different abortion bills were drafted earlier by the group, and Olsen said it will not be easy to come up with the final version because of the widely divergent views of task force members.
Rep. Haynes Fuller, D-Eden, said now that the hearings are over, he is no longer reluctant to express his own feelings on the issue.
Fuller called all three of the proposed bills flawed and said he wants no change in Utah's current abortion law.
The three draft bills apparently seek to reduce the number of abortions performed by punishing the physician, he said.
"if a woman uses a coat hanger, sends for a French pill or uses a do-it-yourself kit to abort the fetus there is no punishment," Fuller said. "I say it's a little ridiculous to deprive her of a safe, competent doctor, especially if we don't choose to punish her as a criminal."
Dr. Kent Gibbs, a Logan physician, said he is the only one of eight Cache Valley obstetrician-gynecologists willing to speak out on the pro-choice side.
Gibbs told the panel that those needing the protection of free choice are not all unemployed, in their teens or on welfare, contrary to popular myth.
"They are your daughters or your sons' girlfriends, your mothers, your teachers, your secretaries, your wives and your ex-wives, and I see them all," he said.
Among the crowd of about 150 attending Wednesday's hearing, at least 50 expressed strong feelings on either side of the issue.
Jeena Nilson, spokeswoman for the Cache County Right to Life chapter, said she wants the task force to pursue more restrictive abortion laws and to include stringent reporting requirements if abortion is not going to be outlawed altogether.
She said the three proposed bills fall short of the protection needed for women and babies.
"I feel if the law allows abortion in the event of fetal deformities, those deformities should be confirmed by at least two physicians not involved in the possible abortion," she said.
"In the event of abortion being needed to save a mother's life, two physicians should be required to document that the mother's life or health is in serious jeopardy," she said.
Diane Stuart, director of Cache Citizens Against Physical and Sexual Abuse, objected to requirements that rape and incest victims promptly report incidents to law enforcement agencies.
"We see many of these women later on and we realize the victims are not physically, emotionally, spiritually or mentally capable of reporting to anyone immediately after the event," she said.