Even though the Legislature rushed toward passage of a tough anti-abortion bill this week, a move that will end formal legislative debate, controversy over the issue won't be going away.
First off, there may be national consequences to the Legislature's actions that weren't immediately seen.Sen. Karen Shepherd, D-Salt Lake, pointed out correctly in Senate debate that Utah's abortion debate comes at a time when the nation is watching a war unfold on TV and in the newspapers.
We haven't seen the national media coverage of Utah's abortion bill because of the war. We haven't even seen the local media coverage of the bill because of the war.
Remember Idaho last year? Reporters from throughout the nation, many of whom probably didn't know where Boise was until their editors gave them their plane tickets, converged on the state after the Idaho Legislature passed a restrictive abortion law. They camped out at Idaho Gov. Cecil Andrus' office for several days until he finally decided to veto the measure - painting rather unflattering pictures of Idahoans.
Utah legislative leaders purposely decided to shorten the abortion debate. They reached compromise with Bangerter last Friday. The compromise bill wasn't even available to the public until Monday morning when the Senate held what was supposed to be a joint Senate and House hearing. The idea was to pass the bill in the Senate Tuesday, bypass a House hearing (House committee members sat in on the Senate hearing, but didn't debate or vote on the bill) and go directly to the House vote on Wednesday. Bangerter was to sign the bill Thursday.
The whole abortion debate would last three days in the Legislature, one day in the governor's office and it would be over with.
With any luck, the national media wouldn't even bat an eye.
The speeded-up process - all perfectly legal under House and Senate joint rules - went a bit awry, however, when House Democrats demanded a House hearing and Senate Republicans and Democrats decided in a closed caucus to take the usual two votes over two days on the bill. But the process was stalled by only a few days.
"We didn't ramrod this thing through," complained House Majority Whip Byron Harward, R-Provo. "We followed our rules. We've already had nine public hearings as part of the Abortion Task Force. What other bill can you name where we've had nine hearings throughout the state? We just wanted to compress the time frame. We want Utahns to debate this matter. But we aren't interested in a national debate (brought by the national media) like Idaho had."
But what wasn't said in the Utah Legislature about restricting abortion will likely still be said elsewhere - and Utahns will have no control over that debate at all.
Shepherd warns that Utah will lose convention and tourist business because of the new law; that Salt Lake's bid for the Winter Olympics could also be in jeopardy.
I agree Utah could lose some convention business through boycotts organized by pro-choice groups. Certainly the National Organization for Women won't be holding their yearly convention here. But I doubt they'd be coming anyway.
I disagree that Utah's action will have any meaningful effect on the International Olympic Committee, even though anti-abortion advocates say they'll write each IOC member informing them of the new abortion law and encouraging them not to select Salt Lake City.
Hey, the IOC gave the Summer Olympics to the pre-Gorbachev Soviet Union, where human rights were being violated daily. Utah may not get the 1996 Winter Games, but it won't be because of the abortion law.
But there's another issue Shepherd mentioned that I think does deserve consideration - Utah's image across the nation.
Years have been spent by tourist officials, the Department of Community and Economic Development and others cultivating a good image for Utah. Human nature being what it is, many Americans tend to believe the worst about a people or place.
I cringe when I think of the labels that can be tagged on the state now: "Utah, where you can't get a drink or an abortion." Regardless of how unfair such criticism is - and such talk usually is unfair - it still has its impact.
Does this mean Utahns can't enact their legal and moral beliefs into law for fear of outside reaction? Of course not. It does mean that legislators should consider such matters well before they act. And they acted so quickly in the abortion case I wonder if all aspects were weighed carefully.