The ad in the New York Times claims Utah shoots women who get abortions. But Utah may no longer have the strictest abortion law in the nation.
The North Dakota Legislature has passed a restrictive law that makes Utah's much-criticized law liberal by comparison. The bill, which passed the Senate 32-24 on Wednesday and 64-39 earlier in the House, now awaits the signature of Gov. George Sinner, a 62-year-old a father of 10.Sinner declined to say whether he would sign the bill. Earlier he said he thought it "goes too far."
"I think it's great. We ought to call the governor there and pressure him to sign it," said Rosa Goodnight, state director for the Right to Life of Utah. "Their law goes for what we tried getting. It is much more of an ideal bill from our perspective."
The North Dakota law allows abortions only in cases of rape, incest and when the life of the mother is endangered. The North Dakota bill is stricter because Utah permits abortions if the fetus has "grave and irremediable physical or mental defects."
The Utah law also allows abortions if the woman's health is in any way threatened; the North Dakota bill stipulates a woman's life must be in danger.
In North Dakota, a rape would have to be reported to police within 21 days, or within 15 days after the woman became capable of reporting it, for an abortion to be legal. The Utah law has more liberal reporting requirements.
Pro-life advocates in Utah tried to get the North Dakota wording in the Utah law but failed. "We didn't want grave medical health for the mother or unborn," Goodnight said.
She adds that the North Dakota law gives the U.S. Supreme Court two different laws to choose from.
Utah pro-choice advocates, meanwhile, are dismayed at the North Dakota action. "If the North Dakota governor does not veto the bill, I'm sure the ACLU will file an injunction there as well," said Michele Parish, executive director of the Utah Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.
The ACLU's lawsuit against Utah is expected to be filed within the next two weeks. The Utah law takes effect April 29, but Gov. Norm Bangerter has said it will not be enforced unless it is upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. It could take several years for the law to reach that court.
The goal of the ACLU, Parish said, is to keep abortion safe and legal. In Utah, that fight goes beyond the state's restrictive new law to the criminal homicide statutes.
Utah law states, "There shall be no cause of action for criminal homicide against a mother or a physician for the death of an unborn child caused by an abortion where the abortion was permitted by law and the required consent was lawfully given."
Bangerter's chief of staff, Bud Scruggs said that law does not mean that women who have an illegal abortion are subject to murder charges. But the governor has agreed to ask lawmakers to delete the reference to "permitted by law" and "required consent" in next month's special session of the Legislature.
That after the ACLU ran a full-page ad in the New York Times condemning Utah for making a woman subject to the death penalty if she has an abortion. Since that time, Parish said her office has received about $2,500 in donations. "They just say, `Keep up the good work,' " she said.
The reason the ACLU targeted Utah was that it's law was the worst, she said, adding that she wasn't sure whether North Dakota and other states that approve restrictive abortion laws would be the subject of future advertisements in the New York Times. "I'm not sure they're going to run a `Worst of the Week' campaign," she said.
Richard G. Wilkins, an abortion law expert and law professor at Brigham Young University, said critics forget that Utah's law is very moderate. "It leaves the abortion to the discretion of a professional physician. It is his determination what constitutes a grave threat to the maternal health of the mother. That is the very thing the pro-life people don't like."
Wilkins is angry at the "whip-saw" tactics of the ACLU in attacking Utah. For the past 20 years, the ACLU has cautioned lawmakers not to interfere with a doctor's right of discretion, he said.
"The Utah law allows that very discretion," he said. "And now they criticize the Utah law because they say allowing the doctor discretion makes the law too vague."
Wilkins said the North Dakota Legislature used the Utah law as a starting point, making their own law more restrictive as they went. He agreed that Pro-Life advocates were not happy with the moderate provisions in Utah law and were seeking another test case for an even more restrictive law.
Laws around the nation
Here's a brief look at the abortion issue in other states and the territory of Guam:
UTAH - Utah's law, which takes effect April 28, has been considered the nation's toughest. It bans abortions except in cases of rape or incest, provided the operation is performed no later than 20 weeks into the pregnancy; in cases of grave danger to the mother's physical health; or if the fetus suffers grave defects. Gov. Norm Bangerter has suspended enforcement pending resolution of promised court challenges. When the governor signed the bill Jan. 26, it was on condition its enforcement be delayed until legal challenges are complete.
LOUISIANA - Gov. Buddy Roemer vetoed two bills in 1990. One would have banned all abortions except those in which the woman's life is at stake; the other added exceptions for aggravated rape and incest. Anti-abortion legislators lacked the votes to override Roemer's veto.
IDAHO - Gov. Cecil Andrus vetoed legislation that would have made abortion illegal except in cases of non-statutory rape reported within seven days, incest if the victim is younger than 18, severe fetal deformity or a threat to the mother's life or physical health.
GUAM - A new law prohibits abortions except when a pregnancy endangers the life of the mother. It makes it a felony to perform or aid in an abortion, a misdemeanor for a woman to solicit or have an abortion, and a misdemeanor for a person to solicit a woman to have an abortion. Last August, a federal court suspended the law. U.S. District Judge Alex Munson declared that Roe vs. Wade, the 1973 decision establishing the right to an abortion, "applied with equal force and effect to Guam."