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‘Encouraged’ By SCOTUS Shift, Republican Lawmaker Pushes Second Trimester Abortion Ban

Rep. Cheryl Acton
Julia Ritchey
Rep. Cheryl Acton, R-West Jordan, discusses her bill to ban abortions after 15 weeks gestation.

A Utah Republican lawmaker pushing for a ban on second trimester abortions says the addition of two conservative justices to the Supreme Court in recent years could provide more favorable conditions to pursuing a challenge to Roe v. Wade.

“I would like to have the issue returned to the states,” said Rep. Cheryl Acton, R-West Jordan, at a press conference on Wednesday to discuss her legislation.

The bill, H.B. 136, would ban abortions after 15 weeks with certain exceptions for rape, incest and the life or impairment of the mother. It’s modeled after a similar ban in Mississippi that was blocked by a federal judge last November.

“For some this bill doesn’t go far enough. ...For some this bill goes way too far,” said Acton. “To that extent, it may be considered something of a compromise.”

Acton says the bill was not solely motivated by the Supreme Court’s rightward shift, but does believe Utah could become a test case for more stringent abortion laws.

“I guess it would be more problematic to pursue this if we thought it would hit a 7-2 court like Roe v. Wade,” she said. “I’m actually encouraged by the make-up of the court, but nonetheless somewhat reserved in my excitement about it.”

Democrats and abortion rights groups were quick to note that the bill would likely be considered unconstitutional and cost the state money in legal defense.

The federal judge that struck down Mississippi’s ban noted that prior case law prevents states from banning abortions before viability, usually considered around 24 to 25 weeks.

The bill does not yet have a fiscal note attached, but Acton says the Attorney General’s office gave her an initial estimate of between $1-2 million for defending it in court.

Heather Stringfellow, vice president of public policy for Planned Parenthood of Utah, told KUER’s RadioWest on Tuesday the legislation is part of a nationwide trend.

“We can see there’s this national agenda to restrict abortion access and get a case up to the Supreme Court so they can start chipping away at Roe vs. Wade,” she said.

Stringfellow says with only two providers in the state and a host of restrictions, it’s already very difficult to access abortions in Utah.

“I suppose that’s the irony behind it,” said Stringfellow. “Utah has some of the most stringent laws in place and barriers in place in terms of accessing abortion.”

According to the Department of Health’s most recent statistics in 2017, about 150 abortions out of 2,759 in Utah were performed after 15 weeks of gestation.

Democratic Rep. Karen Kwan tweeted a screenshot from the Office of Legislative Research and General Counsel, the Legislature's attorneys, noting that “there is a high probability that the court would find that the proposed legislation imposes an unconstitutional undue burden on a woman’s right to non-therapeutic pre-viability abortion.”

Acton’s bill will be joined by another abortion bill, H.B. 166, coming back this year. Rep. Karianne Lisonbee, R-Clearfield, wants to bar abortions after a fetal diagnosis of Down syndrome. Her legislation passed the House last year but wasn’t put up for a vote in the Senate.

Julia joined KUER in 2016 after a year reporting at the NPR member station in Reno, Nev. During her stint, she covered battleground politics, school overcrowding, and any story that would take her to the crystal blue shores of Lake Tahoe. Her work earned her two regional Edward R. Murrow awards. Originally from the mountains of Western North Carolina, Julia graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill in 2008 with a degree in journalism. She’s worked as both a print and radio reporter in several states and several countries — from the 2008 Beijing Olympics to Dakar, Senegal. Her curiosity about the American West led her to take a spontaneous, one-way road trip to the Great Basin, where she intends to continue preaching the gospel of community journalism, public radio and podcasting. In her spare time, you’ll find her hanging with her beagle Bodhi, taking pictures of her food and watching Patrick Swayze movies.
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