Minor girls who want an abortion could no longer sidestep parental consent by getting a judge's order under a bill being proposed to state lawmakers in January.
The bill, which is still being drafted, would remove the option from current state abortion law that permits minors to have the procedure if a judge approves it, without a parent's consent or even their knowledge.
A state that so strongly believes in parental consent and control in families should require it before a young woman makes such a critical decision one that involves both the mother and her infant, says the measure's sponsor, Rep. Stephen Sandstrom, R-Orem.
At this stage in the drafting process, two exceptions are included in the bill: If the pregnancy was caused by incest or by a stepfather, Sandstrom said, adding that other exceptions may be added, or at least discussed, as the bill progresses.
One thing the bill won't be is the "total frontal assault" proposal he sponsored last session.
"A complete state ban is still what ultimately needs to happen, but we're still at least one (U.S. Supreme Court) justice away from the court even considering overturning Roe v. Wade," the 1973 ruling that gave women the federal right to choose the procedure.
A state acting without the Supreme Court acting first is highly unlikely, Sandstrom said. The abortion ban bill he proposed last session ultimately was sidelined by legislation stating Utah will take steps to limit or ban abortion should the Supreme Court amend Roe v. Wade.
"We just can't achieve a ban at this point, at least not without considerable expense in defending it in court," Sandstrom said. "So what I'm proposing this time is a step we can take to chip away at obtaining abortion services. This really goes back to the fundamental issue of parents' rights and control of what their children are doing."
The proposed legislation will have little effect other than stirring up controversy, said Missy Larsen, executive director of Planned Parenthood's Action Council.
"Utah already has one of the lowest abortion rates in the country, and it's not like kids are rushing to the court so they can get abortions," Larsen said. "We just had this same debate in 2006; only eight teens have sought court approval, and all but two were denied. The important thing is that we prevent these pregnancies from happening in the first place.
"We need a comprehensive approach that includes parental involvement, abstinence education, more accessible birth control and medically accurate information," she said.
Everyone has the same mission stop teen pregnancy, Larsen added. "If the billion dollars spent on abstinence-only education were working, pregnancies and teen births would be going down. Instead, the opposite is happening."
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released figures this past week showing that the number of teen births increased by 3 percent nationwide between 2005 and 2006 the first increase since 1991. The state Department of Health last May released statewide figures showing what public health administrators called an "alarming" rate of teen births in Utah. Some health districts had teen birth rates of more than 90 per 1,000 teens. The average rate of teen births nationwide is about 67, according to the CDC.
Larsen and other critics of Utah's abortion-ban efforts believe a major, but barely mentioned, factor in the debate is the false notion that women seeking an abortion do so frivolously. Health department data show that of the 3,200 women who had abortions in 2005, the average age was 25, and 66 percent already had from one to six children.
Efforts in Utah and other states to impose an outright ban on abortion face the probability that any state law that blocks a federal right would set off a spate of lawsuits that the states most likely would lose.
Utah already lost once, in 1991. Utah challenged the ruling and spent more than $1 million in the attempt. Legislative leaders say the state is not ready to simply spend that money all over again and isn't inclined to try unless successfully defending the ban in court is at least a possibility.
In a recent Deseret Morning News/KSL-TV poll on abortion, a majority 52 percent opposed spending state money to defend a state ban on abortion.
The Utah Attorney General's Office estimates it would cost $1.3 million nearly $440,000 per year for three years to litigate an outright ban on abortion.
While Sandstrom and ban proponents are convinced that any effort to stop abortions from being done is only right, other lawmakers are convinced the decision is not up to lawmakers but up to a woman, her clergy and her doctor. Others said Utahns would be better served by legislation that would emphasize preventing unwanted babies.
Sandstrom and other proponents will keep looking for other ways to limit access. They also say they still believe the issue is best left up to individual states because abortions violate local community standards in most of them."I think you're going to see more than just Utah doing this," Sandstrom said. "We are talking about preserving the sanctity of human life, and Utah really ought to be leading the way."
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