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Measure on illegal abortions heads to governor

Published February 18, 2010 6:18 pm

Health » Opponents fear 'reckless' clause could haunt domestic violence victims who stay with their abusers.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2010, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The Utah Senate has joined the House in allowing homicide charges against expectant mothers who arrange illegal abortions.

The bill responds to a case in which a Vernal woman allegedly paid a man $150 to beat her and cause miscarriage but could not be charged. The Senate on Thursday approved HB12 on a vote of 24-4, criminalizing a woman's "intentional, knowing, or reckless act" leading to a pregnancy's illegal termination. It specifies that a woman cannot be prosecuted for arranging a legal abortion.

The measure now goes to Gov. Gary Herbert for final action.

Some Senate Democrats attempted a last-minute amendment to remove the word "reckless" from the list of criminal acts leading to miscarriage. They argued that criminalizing reckless acts leaves open the possibility of prosecutions against domestic violence victims who return to their abusers only to be beaten and lose the child.

"It's part of the cycle of domestic violence," said Sen. Luz Robles, D-Salt Lake City.

"I hope none of you ever have to face that situation," she said after realizing the majority would pass the bill as is, "or have a daughter facing that situation, or a granddaughter."

But the bill's sponsor, Sen. Margaret Dayton, R-Orem, said the bill doesn't target victims at all -- only those who arrange to terminate their pregnancies illegally.

"I know it's well-intentioned," Dayton said of the attempt to lift "reckless acts" from the bill, "but I don't think we want to go down the road of carefully defining the behavior of a woman."

Robles and Sen. Ben McAdams said they had spoken to the bill's original sponsor, Rep. Carl Wimmer, R-Herriman, just before the debate and believed he would support the change on behalf of domestic violence victims. Dayton, though, said Wimmer sent her a text message during the debate asking her to press on.

Wimmer later said he had been open to the Democrats' suggestion, but it had come too late.

"I wasn't about to hold the bill up," he said.