Abortion dominated the early debate in the 1991 Legislature, and the issue will rule in next week's special session as well.
Republican legislative leaders moved the toughest abortion law in the nation through the Legislature in several days. Such orchestration will be called upon again when the 104 lawmakers discuss the emotional matter April 17.How long or difficult the debate will be next week isn't known. On the surface, only minor items must be decided. The most talked-about is amending a 1983 homicide statute to clearly say a woman who gets an illegal abortion and the doctor who performs the operation can't be prosecuted for murder.
Proposed changes in the abortion law itself would include all immediate male relatives under the new law's incest definition; add osteopaths to the definition of medical doctors, the only persons who can decide if an abortion should be performed; and spell out that violations must be "willful and reckless."
Lawmakers will also be asked to free up the $100,000 set aside in next year's budget to defend the law immediately instead of making the attorney general wait until July 1 to start spending the money.
That's a long list, but Gov. Norm Bangerter's chief of staff, Bud Scruggs, said none of the items should be controversial enough to rekindle arguments against restricting abortion.
"As long as they're truly technical amendments - and these all are - you can keep it a fairly narrow exercise," Scruggs said.
But the new law can be debated, or even repealed if a majority of lawmakers so decide.
"By putting the subject of abortion on the special session call, that opens the whole matter again," said House Majority Whip Byron Harward, R-Provo.
The governor sets special session agendas. But he can't limit discussion or action to specific sections of the Utah code, said Harward. Bangerter decided to place abortion on the special session call after critics started complaining that a 1983 amendment to the homicide statutes could be interpreted to include women seeking illegal abortions.
Rep. Haynes Fuller, D-Eden, told the Associated Press that he plans to seek repeal of the newly passed law in the special session. Fuller admits his attempt will likely fail, but he said he must try. His effort guarantees some kind of overall debate on the controversial new law. House Minority Leader Frank Pignanelli, D-Salt Lake, said there will be no organized Democratic opposition to the abortion law. "Our caucus decided (during the general session) not to take a position on the bill, each member voted his individual conscience," Pignanelli said.
The law, believed to be the toughest anti-abortion action in the 50 states, would make most of the 4,000 abortions performed in Utah each year illegal. The only exceptions would be for rape or incest, if properly reported to authorities; or where the mother's life is in danger; or where the mother's health would be gravely threatened by the pregnancy; or where the child would be born with grave deformities.
It's up to the attending physician to decide if those conditions apply. It would be a third-degree felony - five years in jail and a $5,000 fine - for a physician to perform an illegal abortion. No penalty is imposed against the woman.
The new abortion bill won't take effect April 28 when other bills passed by the Legislature become law. The ACLU has filed suit in federal court, and Bangerter has said he wouldn't enforce the law in any case until the U.S. Supreme Court rules on its legality. (See accompanying story.)
NOW to boycott Utah
The National Organization for Women will launch a nationwide boycott of Utah - including a drive to deny the state the 1998 Winter Olympics - over its restrictive abortion law, NOW President Molly Yard said in Washington Tuesday.
The boycott decision was approved by NOW's national board of directors, meeting April 6.