When Gov. Norm Bangerter delivers his State of the State address Monday night, both sides on the abortion debate will be listening closely to see what he says about a legislative task force bill on abortion.
What everyone wants to know is whether the governor will fight the bill, either through threatening to veto it, coming up with his own legislation or both."The question is not whether he likes the bill," said Bud Scruggs, the governor's chief of staff. "The question is, what is he going to suggest as an alternative."
Bangerter is expected to spend the weekend trying to come up with an answer to that question, an answer he won't make public until his annual address to the Legislature.
"The governor is torn. He would like to do something that would meaningfully restrict abortion," Scruggs said. "What the governor wants is if they do a bill, it be defensible. Not a slam-dunk, but at least defensible."
The governor has been advised that the task-force bill, which resulted from months of meetings including public hearings held throughout the state, is likely unconstitutional.
The bill allows abortions when the woman's life is at stake, in cases of rape and incest under certain conditions and in cases of fatal fetal deformity.
Bangerter said earlier this week he is resigned to having to deal with the issue during the 1991 Legislature. Last year, he persuaded lawmakers they were better off letting other states take the lead in restricting abortions.
"I don't think there's any stopping a resolution," the governor told the Salt Lake Kiwanis Club. "My preference would be that we do as last year and maybe not be the point on the abortion issue."
The problem then and now with any bill limiting access to abortion is that it is likely to be challenged, forcing the state into a potentially costly legal battle to determine whether the restrictions are constitutional.
Right to Life of Utah disagrees with that assessment and has a promise from the general counsel to the National Right to Life Committee that he will defend the bill at no charge.
"Right to Life of Utah and other organizations would not be endorsing a bill that was unconstitutional," director Rosa Goodnight said during a press conference Friday.
Goodnight said that although the organization has yet to find a Utah attorney who believes the bill is constitutional, Right to Life expects support from lawmakers because the legislation reflects the position of most Utahns.
"Utahns want to prevent abortion. This bill goes a long way," she said.
The American Civil Liberties of Utah will take the state to court if the bill is approved as written, according to executive director Michele Parish-Pixler.
"My job is to challenge unconstitutional bills. I'll do my job," she said. "It's certainly not a battle that I, as a taxpayer, appreciate having to fight."