Abortion rights advocates are asking a federal judge to block a controversial new law restricting abortions after 18 weeks gestation from taking effect next month.
The Planned Parenthood Association of Utah and the ACLU of Utah filed the injunction Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Salt Lake City, following through on a promise of legal action after the Utah Legislature passed the law earlier this year.
“Politicians have no place in the private medical decisions of Utah women,” said Karrie Galloway, president and CEO of Utah’s Planned Parenthood, at a press conference announcing the lawsuit. “This unconstitutional ban is clearly part of a broader agenda to ban abortion one law at a time.”
Galloway said there is a “full-on attack” against access to abortion in state legislatures across the country, which considered more than 260 proposals to restrict the procedure just this year.
“Instead of yet another attack on the right to a safe and legal abortion, Gov. Herbert and the Legislature should focus on improving women’s health” through avenues such as increased access to birth control through Medicaid expansion and a no-copay provision under the Affordable Care Act. Lawmakers could also work to reduce air pollution, which is linked to higher risk of miscarriage, and reduce Utah’s maternal mortality rate, she said.
Gov. Herbert’s office declined to comment on the challenge, citing the pending litigation. Herbert has previously defended the law, saying his “bias is pro-life” and that scientific advancements since the landmark 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade warrant a review of fetal viability outside the womb.
Rep. Cheryl Acton, R-West Jordan, who sponsored the bill, has said the legislation was spurred in part by a rightward shift of the U.S. Supreme Court following two appointments by President Donald Trump
In a statement late Wednesday, Acton said while she did not welcome the lawsuit, she had expected it.
“The ACLU and Planned Parenthood use the threat and cost of litigation to intimidate states into maintaining the status quo on abortion, regardless of the sentiments of the people of those states,” she said.
“It is my hope that abortion law will be returned to the states, where it resided prior to Roe, so that the people of each state may decide the issue in the normal legislative process," she said.
Acton previously said she believes the legislation includes reasonable restrictions on second trimester abortions by allowing exceptions for specific circumstances, such as rape, incest or the health of the mother.
Unless a judge rules otherwise, the law is scheduled to take effect May 14.
Galloway said there are only two abortion clinics in Utah, both of which are located in Salt Lake City. One is operated by Planned Parenthood.
In 1991, the ACLU of Utah sued the state over a similar law restricting abortions after 22 weeks, a legal battle they ultimately won, said the organization’s senior staff attorney Leah Farrell.
“Our Legislature has decided once again to attempt to curb important reproductive rights. And once again, we are standing up to hold the line and to say, ‘We’ll see you in court,’” Farrell said.