Gov. Norm Bangerter signed a bill Tuesday creating a fund to which Utahns can contribute in order to defend Utah's abortion law, which is considered the most restrictive in the nation.
"I think this is a good idea. On this issue, we're all concerned about public monies," the governor said. "I don't think it's inappropriate for people to feel strongly" to donate money.The American Civil Liberties Union of Utah has already pledged to challenge the legislation limiting a woman's right to an abortion and it has been estimated the state could spend as much as $1 million defending the new law.
Rep. Evan Olsen, R-Young Ward, Cache County, said there has been confusion over where the public should send donations. Olsen said legislative counsel told lawmakers that contributions should go to the attorney general.
But Attorney General Paul Van Dam, who has raised questions about the law's constitutionality, has said money should be turned in to the state treasurer's office.
"I've had a lot of people ask me where to send it," Olsen said. "They've wanted to (contribute), but just haven't known how."
Farah Mahi, spokeswoman for the attorney general, said the decision did not reflect Van Dam's personal opinion of the legislation. Mahi said state law requires the money to go directly to the treasurer to ensure accountability.
The governor, who met privately with Van Dam before the bill-signing ceremony, agreed it was more appropriate for contributions to go to the treasurer.
"I think it's obvious it's got to go to the treasurer," Bangerter said.
So far, the largest contribution received is a check for $5,000 from an unidentified merchant. Only slightly more than an additional $100 has been raised.
Rosa Goodnight, director of Right to Life of Utah, said that because of the confusion, her organization has been encouraging members to send contributions earmarked for the fund directly to the pro-life organization.