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Utah lawmakers make their first move to eliminate abortion clinics

The Utah State Capitol on the first day of the 2023 Utah legislative session, Jan. 17, 2023, in Salt Lake City.
Briana Scroggins
/
special to KUER
The Utah State Capitol on the first day of the 2023 Utah legislative session, Jan. 17, 2023, in Salt Lake City.

Update: The bill was passed by the House on Feb. 17 in 51-14-10 vote. The bill now heads to the Utah Senate for consideration. Our original story follows below.


Simply titled “Abortion Changes,” HB467 would stop the licensing of new Utah abortion clinics in May and then eliminate clinics starting in January 2024.

At a Feb. 15 House Judiciary Committee hearing, Republicans passed the bill on a 9-2 party-line vote. It now heads to the House floor for consideration (see update above).

In addition to eliminating abortion clinics in the state, nearly all abortions would be moved to hospitals and exceptions — like in the case of rape or incest — would be limited to 18 weeks of pregnancy. The requirement to report sexual assault for pregnant children under the age of 12 would also be removed, among other changes.

Republican sponsor Rep. Karianne Lisonbee of Clearfield testified that the bill provides equity between the health of mothers and their unborn children.

“We have worked closely with area doctors and hospitals to ensure that our statute strikes the very best balance of protecting innocent life and protecting women who experience rare and dangerous circumstances during pregnancy,” she said.

Opponents expressed concerns that eliminating the option for clinic-based care would make abortion treatment more expensive and push it further out of reach of those who are economically challenged or live long distances from hospitals or approved providers.

“[Right now] I tell them that we can take care of [people seeking an abortion] in an outpatient clinic with the same doctors, the same procedures, the same excellent standards of care, but it will cost them much less,” said Dr. Misha Pangasa, who identified herself as an OBGYN who provides abortion care. “This bill will remove the option for clinic-based care and will result in more pain and suffering for people who are already going through some of the most difficult times of their lives.”

Currently, there are only two clinics in Utah that perform surgical abortions.

The bill would require all abortions to be performed at a hospital “unless it is necessary to perform the abortion in another location due to a medical emergency.” It also defines a “hospital” as a licensed hospital in the state or a state-certified clinic, or other medical facility, that is able to provide the same standard of care as a general hospital.

“The provision that just discontinues the licensing for abortion clinics is because they generally perform elective abortions,” clarified Lisonbee. “Any abortion that would happen would be in a clinical or in a hospital setting, but we are certainly not pigeonholing patients into one type of service in this bill.”

Utah’s abortion “trigger law” bans nearly all elective abortions, with exceptions for rape, incest or situations where the life of the mother is at risk. That law is currently blocked by a court injunction following a challenge by the Planned Parenthood Association of Utah in the wake of the Supreme Court’s dismantling of Roe v. Wade.

Lisonbee believes the case will be resolved by the beginning of 2024, the same time the restrictions on clinics would take effect as outlined in the bill.

When that happens, we don't recognize elective abortions in Utah anymore under our statute,” she said.

Committee Democrats saw the bill as unnecessarily inserting government between patients and their doctors.

I think the effect of the bill pretty clearly is to target this group of health care providers to put abortion out of the reach for as many Utahns as possible to make it more expensive,” said Salt Lake City Rep. Brian King. “I think that when we want to advocate for putting government itself in the middle of these most personal, private decisions that people have to make in their lives, it violates our most ground level freedoms and liberties.”

In a statement, House Democrats said that closing clinics and requiring abortion care to be performed at hospitals “will not only limit access to abortion, but also other types of reproductive health care. This bill will put critical health care out of reach for the majority of Utahns.”

Lisonbee and her co-sponsor, Sen. Dan McCay, R-Riverton, did say they were open to discussing the bill further and possibly amending it. For example, increasing the exemption age from 12 to 14, which is the minimum age of consent in Utah.

Is that number sacrosanct? No,” McCay said. “If there's another number that our legislative colleagues want to consider, I think that's something we ought to consider and do it justice.”

Sean is KUER’s politics reporter.
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