House Democrats are trying to slow the progress of an abortion bill they claim the governor and other backers are "ramrodding" through the Legislature in the hope it would be signed into law by the end of the week.
House Minority Leader Frank Pignanelli, D-Salt Lake, is doing what Gov. Norm Bangerter won't do - asking for an opinion on the bill's constitutionality from Attorney General Paul Van Dam."We want to wait until we get the attorney general's opinion and he says he can give us that within 10 days. If he says the bill is flagrantly unconstitutional and we (all 104 legislators) have sworn to uphold the constitution, we're in a pretty big bind," Pignanelli said Tuesday after meeting with John Clark, counsel to the attorney general.
The bill is expected to pass the Senate this afternoon and come to the House. Pignanelli wants to delay action on it until the attorney general's opinion is ready.
But House Speaker Craig Moody, R-Sandy, said that the Republicans would not wait. "We will not let the executive branch tell us what bills we should or should not pass. If we did, there would be no reason for us to be here."
Moody added, however, that the Democrats' objections may affect how quickly the bill moves through the House. Although Moody said the day before that the bill could be heard before the House Health Committee as soon as Thursday, he would not comment Tuesday on when the additional hearing would be held.
Meanwhile, opponents of the bill announced Tuesday they are already readying a legal challenge.
Susanne Millsaps, director of the Utah Chapter of the National Abortion Rights Action League, said in a press conference Tuesday that attorneys for the American Civil Liberties Union have begun preparing an injunction to stop the bill if it is passed by the Legislature.
Utah ACLU Executive Director Michele Parish-Pixler was out of town Tuesday and unavailable for comment.
Bud Scruggs, Bangerter's chief of staff, said Tuesday the governor does not plan to ask the attorney general to judge whether the bill is constitutional before signing it.
"Right now, the only legal opinion that counts is the Supreme Court's," Scruggs said.
The governor's press secretary, Francine Giani, said Bangerter "can get 20 attorneys in town to tell us it's unconstitutional. We don't need Van Dam to tell us that."
The bill, which was amended to closely follow guidelines set by the governor during his State of the State address last week, was the subject of an emotional, three-hour public hearing Monday before the House and Senate health committees.
Some members of the House Health Committee complained they were not able to askquestions during the joint hearing and many members of the public were angry that they didn't get a chance to speak.
Pignanelli told members of the Gay and Lesbian Utah Democrats Monday an additional hearing on the bill was scheduled after he met with Moody to ask that the bill be slowed down.
"It's being ramrodded. The reason why is I think most of the Legislature want to take advantage of the fact there are Scud missiles all over the Middle East," Pignanelli said, adding that news coverage of other issues is limited.