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Utah House Bill Would Require Ultrasounds Before Abortions

Photo of a man in a suit sitting behind a wooden desk and speaking into a microphone
Sonja Hutson
Rep. Steve Christiansen, R-West Jordan, presents his abortion ultrasound bill to the House Judiciary Committee.

People in Utah seeking an abortion would have to get an ultrasound beforehand under a bill being considered in the stateUtah Llegislature. 

The doctor or technician performing the ultrasound would have to describe, in real time, the ultrasound images, including the presence of visible body parts and organs as well as the location of the fetus in the uterus. They would also have to make the heartbeat audible, although the patient could avert their eyes and ask that the volume of the heartbeat be turned down or off. 

“Providing the best information to women, respecting them, acknowledging the difficult decision that they oftentimes need to make with regard to whether or not to receive an abortion is the best thing to do,” said the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Steve Christiansen, R-West Jordan. “It is the best way to empower and to respect a woman.”

Doctors who don’t comply with the law could have their medical license revoked and be fined up to $100,000 for a first offense and $250,000 for subsequent offenses. It also exempts ultrasounds for abortions in cases of rape, incest and if the fetus is not going to survive.

At a House Judiciary Committee hearing Friday, several women who have had abortions testified that if they had seen ultrasound images or heard a fetal heartbeat, they would not have gone through with that abortion. 

“For over a decade after my abortion, I was in such sorrow and felt so much self loathing for myself that I endured multiple abusive relationships,” said Dusty Johns. “If only I had known, if only I had seen his ultrasound, if only I had heard his heartbeat, my son would still be alive today.”

But critics of the bill point to a study released last month from the University of California San Francisco that found that five years after having an abortion, over 95% of women said they still thought it was the right decision for them

“We can trust women to make decisions that are best for them and their families, and we can trust doctors to provide them with good medical care,” Lauren Simpson, Alliance for a Better Utah policy director, said in a statement. 

The Utah Medical Association and Utah chapter of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists oppose the bill. OB-GYN Dr. Marcela Smid said it’s standard for a doctor to perform an ultrasound before an abortion already, and the patient can ask to see it. 

“There is no medical indication for an additional ultrasound 72 hours prior to a termination,” Smid said. “This bill would require me as a practicing obstetrician to go against the standard of care … This bill requires me to harm patients and to subject them to undo medical and unwanted medical procedures.”

Christiansen said his bill is essentially the same asa Kentucky law, which faced a legal challenge from the ACLU. The U.S. Supreme Court opted not to hear the case in 2019, so a lower court ruling that upheld the law allowed it to go into place. 

The bill is one of three pro-life bills the state Llegislature is considering this session. The sponsors of all of them have mentioned recent or potential court rulings as a reason to bring forward their bill. One by Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, requires the burial or cremation of a miscarried or aborted fetus. A similar Indiana law was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court last year. Sen. Dan McCay, R-Riverton, is sponsoring a bill that would ban all elective abortions if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade. 

The House Judiciary committee did not vote on the bill Friday and held it for a later date due to time constraints of the hearing.

Sonja Hutson covers politics for KUER. Follow her on Twitter @SonjaHutson

Sonja Hutson is a politics and government reporter at KUER.
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