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Utah Senate Passes Abortion Ultrasound Bill, Women Senators Walk Off During Vote

All six of Utah's women senators walked off the Senate floor, refusing to vote on a bill mandating an ultrasound before an abortion.

Utahns seeking abortions would have to undergo an ultrasound while the person performing that ultrasound describes the fetal images, under a bill passed by the state Senate Tuesday. 

The doctor or technician giving the ultrasound would also have to make the heartbeat audible, although the patient could look away and ask that the volume of the heartbeat be turned down or off. 

“This bill is an informed consent bill,” said Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo. “If you're going to take a life of a child, if you're going to terminate that life through an abortion, it seems appropriate that you'd be given the best information about the development, the stage of development [and] the heartbeat.”

All six women senators walked off the Senate floor and did not vote on the legislation. Four Republicans broke ranks with their party to vote against the bill. 

“We discussed how invasive we thought that was and how intrusive this bill is,” said Sen. Kathleen Riebe, D-Cottonwood Heights. “We all uniformly were just upset that this was something that was going to be perpetrated on more women … We don't need to have these conversations on the Senate floor. This is a personal decision.”

Some Republican senators who voted against the bill said they were pro-life and usually vote for pro-life bills, but this one went too far. 

Sen. Daniel Thatcher, R-West Valley City, said he was torn between his strong pro-life beliefs and his strong beliefs opposing government overreach, but ultimately voted against the bill.

“Not doing everything in our power to protect and preserve those lives is abhorrent to me,” Thatcher said. “But now I have to compare and weigh using the power and the force of the government to order a woman to undergo a procedure that she does not want. And I cannot in good conscience exercise the power of the government in that way.”

Federal courts are split on the constitutionality of abortion ultrasound bills. One upheld a similar Kentucky law and found it did not violate the First Amendment, but another federal court found a North Carolina law did. The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to hear both of those cases. 

A constitutional analysis by the Office of Legislative Research and General Counsel obtained by KUER argued that there is a “moderate chance” that the federal district court overseeing Utah would strike down the law. 

Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, said he was concerned over how much that potential legal battle could cost the state and voted against the bill. 

“I'm just not convinced that we need this extra step,” Weiler said. “We've had three informed consent bills that I voted for the last three or four years. And I don't know that this Supreme Court challenge is worth the effort.”

But Bramble said the cost was worth it. 

“This ultimately may go to the Supreme Court as will many pro-life bills,” Bramble said. “If so, that's appropriate. I personally believe that Roe v. Wade is one of the worst decisions handed down by the court.”

The ACLU of Utah said it doesn’t yet know if it will sue over the bill. 

After an amendment from Sen. Deidre Henderson, R-Spanish Fork, the Senate changed the bill to ban physicians from using transvaginal ultrasounds to meet the bill’s requirements. Before the amendment, the bill hadn’t required transvaginal ultrasounds, but it didn’t ban them either. 

Henderson said she’s had several of them.

“They're incredibly invasive,” she said. “They are incredibly embarrassing. They are certainly not anything that the government should ever be, in any way shape or form, mandating.”

The House has already passed the bill, but needs to vote on it again to approve Tuesday’s amendment and other changes made in a Senate committee.

Sonja Hutson is a politics and government reporter at KUER.
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