Utah Senate passes abortion data collection bill
SB60 • Proposal moves to the Utah House on straight party-line vote.
Published: February 20, 2013 03:25PM
Updated: February 20, 2013 10:14PM

Without debate except for an apology for testy exchanges a day earlier, the Utah Senate easily passed a bill Wednesday requiring more data collection about abortions — although Democrats earlier questioned whether it is an attempt to make women seeking abortions more uncomfortable.

The Senate voted 23-5 to pass SB60, and sent it to the House. The Senate’s five Democrats all voted against the bill, which currently is the only legislation on abortion before this year’s Legislature.

It would require state collection of data on the race or ethnicity of women having abortions, the state of pregnancy when they occur and the stated reason, if any, for choosing the abortion.

Its sponsor, Sen. Margaret Dayton, R-Orem, said the federal government already requires filling out forms that provide such information — and the Utah Health Department has collected additional data without being required by law. She says she wants to codify current practice, and ensure collection of data continues if federal forms change.

The only debate on Wednesday was an apology by Dayton for any part of her presentation a day earlier that members may have found offensive — when she and Democrats tussled over whether the data was designed to make women feel more uncomfortable, and whether not answering questions could delay or prevent an abortion.

In that earlier debate, Sen. Pat Jones, D-Holladay, said, “I think there are times when people go through some agonizing experiences and to ask them for extra information that might contribute to more agony to this personal decision, I’m not sure I feel comfortable with that.”

Dayton said, “What I seem to be receiving [in] questions from the other side of the aisle is whether or not we are interfering with the right of a woman to have an abortion or what she’s going to say about it,” while it was simply to gather data.

She said such data can help the Legislature make “wise decisions” when it deals with policy on abortion and related issues. “It’s maybe a good thing we have only five members of the minority party because I’ve now answered questions from all of them,” Dayton said.

Dayton earlier explored the possibility of running a bill that would ban abortions based on the gender of the fetus — a practice she has said may be happening in some cultures. She decided against introducing that measure, choosing instead to sponsor the data collection bill, which she said could provided needed information in determining whether to pursue the other legislation.

Health Department reports already include the data sought, and much more. For example in 2011, reports say that 3,386 abortions were performed in Utah, including 3,081 for residents.

Among reasons women listed were: the mother’s life was threatened, 20; fetal deformity, 42; elective, 546 and therapeutic (for such things as to prevent harm to a woman’s physical or mental health), 2,465.

Also, data show white women had 2,246 abortions; Pacific islanders had 130; blacks had 78; native Americans had 20; other races had 191; and the race was unknown for 416.

Data also break down the stage of gestation when abortions happened in two-week increments. They show 2,824 occurred at 12 weeks of gestation or less; 261 occurred between 13 and 20 weeks; and nine occurred beyond 21 weeks. The gestation period was unknown for eight women.

ldavidson@sltrib.com