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Utah may lengthen abortion waiting period

Published February 7, 2012 2:50 pm

Legislature • Lawmaker admits he is fervently anti-abortion.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Women seeking abortions in Utah would face a waiting period of 72 hours instead of the current 24 under a bill before the Legislature.

Such an extension would tie South Dakota for the longest waiting period in the nation. Conservative groups cheer that, but pro-choice groups saying it would change a system that has worked well — perhaps only to punish women who want abortions.

Freshman Rep. Steve Eliason, R-Sandy, is working on HB461 to lengthen the waiting period.

Eliason said his bill — which has been introduced with a title, but no text — would give a woman the same amount of time to "make a major life decision" as "any consumer has to consider canceling a mortgage."

He adds, "I have a close personal friend who had an abortion, but wishes now that it had not happened. It [a 72-hour waiting period] may have made a difference, I don't know."

Eliason said he does not know if the bill would reduce abortions, but says it would improve decisions.

"If a woman chooses not to have an abortion, they will be thankful for the extra time.... If someone decides to go ahead, they may be glad that they took the extra time to feel confident with that."

The 72 hours, he said, would stretch between when a woman first consults a physician about an abortion to when she could have it.

Eliason, whose full-time job is as vice president and general manager of retail sales for the Utah Jazz, said he decided to push it because South Dakota last year extended its waiting period to 72 hours.

Planned Parenthood has sued, seeking to overturn that law, arguing it violates the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion. The group contends the South Dakota waiting period is unduly burdensome, in part, because many women must travel far to the two abortion clinics in that state, and the waiting period complicates that.

Eliason said the South Dakota law also included several other provisions, including requiring women to receive counseling about alternatives to abortion during the waiting period. He said lawsuits seem aimed more at those provisions than the extension of the waiting period — and he plans not to include them in his bill. "Most states have had waiting periods for years, and courts have upheld them," he said.

Karrie Galloway, CEO of the Planned Parenthood Association of Utah, said before considering threatening a lawsuit over Eliason's Utah bill, it would want to evaluate "his reasons for it, and if there is more to it than just punishing women" who have abortions.

She said Utah has had a 24-hour waiting period "for a long time, and it has been working." She adds that most women have been "thinking about the decision for a long time before they come to the clinic. It is a long and agonizing process."

Galloway adds, "Why if something is working would you change it, other than to punish some women and make them rearrange their lives even further?" She notes that abortions currently are available only in Salt Lake City, so a three-day waiting period may force women from outlying areas "to have multiple nights in a hotel room away from their families."

Meanwhile, Gayle Ruzicka, president of the conservative Utah Eagle Forum, praises the bill. "I believe it will reduce the number of abortions. Any time a woman has time to think through and collect more information about the situation, I believe more will choose life," she said.

"Many laws allow people time to think through important decisions. We give people who buy a used car three days to change their minds. Why not give them three days to consider saving an unborn baby?" Ruzicka said.

Eliason said that no groups asked him to run his bill. He is doing it, he said, because "I'm pro-life, and I feel strongly about it."

Eliason said he has received mostly support from lawmakers with whom he has discussed the bill, but is only in the early stages of that. But House Democratic Leader David Litvack, D-Salt Lake City, said he guesses his party will be split on the issue, and at least some will likely oppose it.

Rep. Stephen Sandstrom, R-Orem, who is running for Congress, also introduced a title-only bill that he said would extend the waiting period for abortions. Sandstrom, who is running for Congress, said because Eliason is seeking the same change, he would support Eliason's efforts instead of pushing a separate measure.