Utah lawmakers will go as far in controlling abortion as the U.S. Supreme Court will allow, leaders from both political parties believe.
The high court has just heard oral arguments in the appeal of a Missouri abortion law. The nine justices can uphold, modify or overturn Roe vs. Wade, the landmark abortion legalization ruling. The court is expected to rule in June, before it recesses for the summer, but it could wait until its new term in October."It's a fair assessment" that Utah lawmakers will control the controversial practice of abortion as severely as the court allows, said House Speaker Nolan Karras, R-Roy.
Rep. R. Mont Evans, R-Riverton, has asked legislative attorneys to start drafting a bill that would restrict abortions to rape, incest and to save the life of the mother. "But it's only a starting point. The (Supreme) court will decide what we can do," Evans said.
Previous media stories have said that Utah has a law on the books that would prohibit abortions should the high court allow that. But attorneys in the Utah attorney general's office and the Office of Legislative Research and General Counsel can't find such statutes, and assume they don't exist.
Gov. Norm Bangerter has already said he won't call a special legislative session to take up abortion this year. If he doesn't, then the first shot lawmakers will get at a state law on abortion will be the regular 1990 general session next January.
"Frankly, it's easier not to have it (the abortion question) back (in the state's purview)," Karras said. "In my years up here we've never even debated abortion. We've debated public funding or abortion, but never the act itself."
But there's little doubt what lawmakers will do if they get that chance.
"They'll go as far as the court allows," said state Democratic Chairman Randy Horiuchi. Most Democratic lawmakers will join that action, Horiuchi believes. "It's a slam dunk, no question. I don't even see it (abortion) as a big political issue because it's basically a decided issue (in Utah)."
The reason is the state's conservative nature, the beliefs of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Republican majorities in the Legislature.
More than 80 percent of lawmakers are LDS, leaders say. "I'm opposed to abortion on religious grounds," said Karras. "But I don't want to run headlong into making a decision. I worry about imposing my beliefs on others."
"All I hope," said state Sen Frances Farley, D-Salt Lake, who by her own admission is one of the few freedom-of-choice advocates in the Legislature, "is that we allow abortion in cases of rape, health of the mother and incest. I hope they (lawmakers) at least give us incest."
LDS Church spokesman Jerry Cahill said the church's general handbook of instruction says faithful members should shun abortion. The handbook says: "Members must not submit to, be a party to, or perform an abortion. The only exceptions are when the pregnancy has resulted from incest or rape; the life or health of the woman is in jeopardy in the opinion of competent medical authority; or the fetus is known, by competent medical authority, to have severe defects that will not allow the baby to survive beyond birth."
Cahill added that the church has consistently opposed the practice of elective abortion. "Abortion is a war on the defenseless and the voiceless; it is a war on the unborn," Cahill said. He added that the church has not participated in lobbying activities for or against the availability of abortion, but does encourage its members the let their voices be heard in appropriate and legal ways that reflect their beliefs in the sanctity of human life.
The Utah Democratic Party's 1988 platform doesn't even address abortion, but does support family planning in general. Republicans criticized Democrats for that omission last year. The state Republican Party's platform is specific on abortion, however, even more restrictive than the LDS Church's handbook.
It says: "We are strongly opposed to abortion except to preserve the life of the mother or in cases of rape or incest. We oppose tax-financed abortions."