Legislative abortion foes unveil plan to ban procedure in Utah

Published October 1, 2008 12:06 am

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Conservative Utah legislators said Tuesday they plan to sponsor legislation banning abortions in Utah in nearly all cases, sparking a legal fight they vowed to fight to the Supreme Court.

"We're tired of it. This group of legislators has had enough of the slaughter of innocents and we're going to step up and we're going to do something about it," said Rep. Carl Wimmer, R-Herriman.

Behind him, about 60 abortion opponents, many in town for a Catholic conference, held signs calling for protection for the unborn. A roughly equal number of pro-choice advocates stood behind them holding signs of their own.

"We are here to stand up for the unborn, to stand up against the dogs of hate who defend abortion on demand," Wimmer said.

The key bill in the package backed by the legislators would ban all abortions, except in cases of rape, incest or if the life or a bodily function of the mother is threatened. Rep. Stephen Sandstrom, R-Orem, said his bill will be nearly identical to one that failed in the 2007 session.

"The crucial thing is: Is this Legislature doing what the people want it to do? Do the people of Utah believe this is the way to prevent abortion from happening in Utah?" asked Missy Bird, executive director of the Planned Parenthood Action Committee.

She said it would cost between $2 million and $10 million fighting to the Supreme Court.

Rep. Christine Johnson, D-Salt Lake City, who was among those holding signs supporting abortion rights, called the announcement a "political stunt" by lawmakers trying to get re-elected, and warned that taxpayers were going to get stuck with the legal tab.

She says the money could be better spent on things like comprehensive sex education and birth control that would reduce the number of abortions performed.

"I have a duty to defend life," said Sandstrom. "I think it's reprehensible to suggest that defending life is a political gimmick."

South Dakota has a similar ban on the ballot this November. Voters there rejected a ban two years ago that had no exceptions.

There were about 3,516 abortions performed in Utah last year, according to the Utah Department of Health.

The supporters said the cost of the fight will not be an issue. Wimmer said that a group based out of Washington, D.C., which he would not identify, has committed to doing all of the legal work defending the bill for the state.

In 1991, the state passed a ban on abortion and spent years defending it in the courts. Supporters of the ban assured legislators that private donors were lined up to support the assured legal fight and a fund was created, but very little was contributed. The state spent about $1 million in legal fees and the courts blocked the law from being enacted.

Sandstrom says this time will be different, because groups and foundations have already committed to backing the state.

Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr.'s spokeswoman said Huntsman opposes abortion, but wouldn't take a stand on legislation he hadn't seen.

Huntsman would look at the proposals but would "have to consider whether it is the best use of resources given the current economic situation," spokeswoman Lisa Roskelley said.

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