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With Roe v. Wade overturned, here’s what happens next with Utah’s abortion trigger law

Advocates for abortion access rally in front of the Utah State Capitol building, May 14, 2022.
Brian Albers
Advocates for abortion access rally in front of the Utah State Capitol building, May 14, 2022.

UPDATE: All elective abortions are now banned in Utah. The Utah legislature’s general counsel has affirmed the state’s trigger law could go into effect after it was determined the legal requirements were met following the Supreme Court's overturning of Roe v. Wade. Abortions will only be allowed in rare cases involving rape, incest or medical emergency.

Our original story continues below.

With the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, both sides of the debate now turn their focus toward Utah’s trigger ban.

It’s something Republican lawmakers have been looking forward to.

“Today is a monumental and long-awaited day in our nation’s history, as the Supreme Court recognized that ‘the authority to regulate abortion is returned to the people and their elected representatives,’” House Speaker Brad Wilson said in a statement.

Before Utah’s law can be implemented, the Office of Legislative Research and General Counsel needs to see whether the details square with the court’s 213-page opinion.

If they do, the counsel will certify that to the Legislative Management Committee. Then, the law can take effect.

If not, the counsel will outline how the conditions of the bill haven’t been met. The Legislature could then meet in a special session to pass a new abortion bill that lines up with the Supreme Court’s decision.

How the law could play out

Let’s look at what happens if the counsel certifies the law and it takes effect.

That means abortion will be illegal in the state except under three specific circumstances: if the life of the pregnant person is in danger, if the fetus has a lethal defect or severe brain abnormality and if the pregnancy is a result of rape or incest, but only if it’s been reported to law enforcement.

Rich Piatt, a spokesperson for the Utah Attorney General’s Office, said it’s the office’s responsibility to offer guidance to state and local agencies, like the Department of Health and Human Services and the Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing.

“The main goal in this initial stage, and probably for quite a while, is compliance to the law, not prosecuting or throwing people in jail,” Piatt said. “There's going to be a learning curve for everyone to figure out what the law means.”

For local prosecutors, there are still a lot of unanswered questions. If a health care provider violates the law, they could be charged with a second degree felony.

Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill said his office would treat it no differently from any other criminal case, though he’s concerned about the consequences of penalizing personal health care decisions.

But the process by which the case reaches his desk is where the details get fuzzy.

“Somebody has to reach out to law enforcement,” Gill said. “Somebody has to file a complaint. Evidence has to be gathered. And I don't know what that's going to look like.”

Until the law is certified, Planned Parenthood Association of Utah CEO Karrie Galloway said they’ll be “conducting business as usual.”

Last year, the health care organization provided 2,554 abortions in the state, according to a Planned Parenthood spokesperson.

Updated: June 24, 2022 at 7:00 PM MDT
This story was updated to include the decision made by the Utah Legislature's general counsel.
Emily Means is a government and politics reporter at KUER.
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