As a nurse, Rep. Paula Julander, D-Salt Lake, once held the hand of a young mother of three who bled to death from a self-induced abortion.
But Julander's emotional testimony against a bill restricting abortions could not stop SB23 from continuing its unrelenting march to the Legislature Thursday when the House Health Committee voted 6-4 in favor of the bill.The bill now goes to the entire House for consideration later Thursday. If passed by the House, the bill will then go to the governor for his signature, thereby becoming the most restrictive abortion law in the nation.
Public participation in the House debate was markedly subdued compared with the Senate debate earlier this week. It is widely assumed by both sides that the bill will pass the Legislature.
However, pro-choice advocates decried what they called a "railroading" of a bill "that was not available to the public or press," said Susanne Milsaps, of the Utah Affiliation of the National Abortion Rights Action League.
"You cannot tell me the voice of the people has been heard. Why are you putting Utahns through this travesty? Why do you let a small group of extremists . . . push through this kind of bill? Can you really say you are doing what is best for Utah?"
SB23, sponsored by Sen. LeRay McAllister, R-Orem, would ban abortions except in cases of rape, incest, severe fetal defects and in cases where the mother's health is endangered. While no criminal penalties are specified for women who get abortions, doctors who perform illegal abortions could be charged with a third-degree felony, punishable by up to five years in prison.
Pro-life advocates countered that the rights of unborn children are an issue of human rights that are "too often lost," said Ken Christoffersen.
Clarke Forsytag, vice president and general counsel of Americans United for Life, told the committee he would prefer a stronger bill that would eliminate all exception, but "I understand there are political and constitutional restraints." He added the bill has a "reasonable chance" of being upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Rebecca Elliott, executive coordinator of the Utah National Organization for Women, warned lawmakers the bill would further magnify Utah's poor public image. She said businesses seek out places that are friendly to their women employees. She added that the bill will further hurt tourism and the state's bid to host the Winter Olympics.
"It will so anger women across the nation they will refuse to visit," she said. "Hosting the Olympics would be a great honor, but passing this bill is not an honorable act."
According to the legislation, "it is the intent of the Legislature to protect and guarantee to unborn children their inherent and inalienable right to life and liberty" guaranteed by the Utah Constitution.