Gov. Norm Bangerter said he will not call legislators into a special session to pass anti-abortion laws if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns its earlier ruling on the matter.
At his monthly KUED-TV news conference Thursday, Bangerter said lawmakers should take time to study and decide what types of abortion laws to pass if the court again allows states to consider the issue independently.He also urged more study on another court ruling that may end the state's practice of exempting retired state workers from income taxes, and he said a third court ruling allowing Indian tribes to tax oil exploration will speed negotiations between the state and Ute Indians.
Bangerter, a conservative Republican, said he will not begin thinking about abortion laws until the court rules on the matter. Then, he hopes, a final decision will be well-reasoned after much study.
"I am basically opposed to abortion," he said. "But where do you draw the line? I happen to believe the fetus is a living being. I think we need to be very careful."
The Supreme Court, which ruled in 1973 that women have a constitutional right to have abortions, is considering a challenge to an abortion-limiting Missouri law.
Utah law at one time outlawed abortions except if necessary to save a woman's life. Doctors found guilty of performing abortions were to be punished by at least two and not more than 10 years in prison. The woman undergoing the abortion was to serve from one to five years in prison.
All such laws disappeared after the 1973 ruling.
Bangerter said he would not include the abortion issue on a legislative agenda even if a special session was called to consider other matters.
"This ought to be handled in the normal course of business," he said. "I don't think this in the kind of issue that has to be dealt with today. Unless there's a clear emergency, it can wait."
Bangerter said lawmakers should examine whether to grant some type of across-the-board tax exemptions to all retirees. A recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling struck down a Michigan agreement that allowed the state to exempt only retired state workers from taxes. Utah has a similar agreement with state employees.
Utah officials originally thought the ruling would require the state to either tax its retirees or extend the exemption to federal retired workers as well.
However, Bangerter said, it may be unfair to exempt state and federal retirees while taxing everyone who worked in the private sector. That is the position of the AFL-CIO and some watchdog groups.
"We need to look at what the total cost to the state would be," he said. "If it gets much higher than $30 million it would be hard to do."
Bangerter said the court decision allowing Indians to tax oil exploration on reservations should put pressure on the state and the Ute tribe to reach a speedy agreement. Ute leaders have imposed a severance tax on oil drilled in eastern Utah. The tax is in addition to state taxes on the oil.
"This requires us to make judgments on what will enhance exportation," Bangerter said. "We have to decide if we can give a little, and they have to decide if they can give a little."
Bangerter has scheduled a daylong trip to visit tribal leaders next week.