The Utah House passed a trio of bills aimed at restricting abortion Monday, including a bill requiring abortion clinics to be inspected twice a year.
"Roe v. Wade has taken the rights of the states away from them to ban elective abortion," said Rep. Carl Wimmer, R-Herriman. "All we can do is push back around the edges, and that is what we continue to do."
Wimmer's HB171 would require Utah's three abortion clinics which are already licensed by the state to be inspected twice a year. One of the inspections would have to be a surprise visit. The cost of the inspections would be covered by the clinics' licensing fees.
But Democratic lawmakers challenged Wimmer to show that there was a problem in Utah.
Wimmer said he didn't have a specific example of unsafe conditions at Utah clinics but said he had a stack of examples from other states, including a case where a doctor licensed in Utah is under investigation for an allegedly botched abortion in Maryland.
"We are naÃ¯ve and arrogant to think we are different in Utah," he said. "Is there a problem? We don't know because the abortion clinics aren't required to be licensed."
The Utah Health Department of Health inspects the Utah Women's Clinic, the only one in the state that performs second-trimester abortions.
The inspections done since 2001 show a handful of violations for administrative shortcomings, including failing to hold enough fire drills, missing quarterly quality assurance meetings, and recordkeeping deficiencies.
"If you believe in limited government you will oppose this bill," said Rep. Carol Spackman Moss, D-Holladay. "This is not about abortion. It's about regulating something you don't happen to like."
The bill passed the House 47-25 and now heads to the Senate.
Wimmer's HB353 would ensure that doctors morally opposed to abortion could not be fired or punished for refusing to perform the procedure including in cases of rape or incest.
Federal law requires doctors to perform the procedure if necessary to save the mother's life. Wimmer's bill would not change that.
It would make a doctor immune from civil liability for refusing to perform an abortion and expand the already-existing protections from disciplinary action.
"This law expands that protection, because right now there is absolutely no explicit wording in the law that prohibits a termination from his job or her job if they refuse to perform an abortion," said Wimmer.
He conceded he could not cite a case in recent years where a doctor has been compelled to perform the procedure or punished for refusing.
"I can't give you any," he said. "What I can give you is just anecdotal evidence or conversations I had with two physicians at the most recent state Republican convention."
He said the doctors told him there was a weakness in the law that they wanted fixed.
Rep. Rebecca Chavez-Houck, D-Salt Lake City, said Wimmer's bill is redundant and she is concerned about women in rural Utah who do not have access to health care alternatives.
The bill passed the House on a party-line vote on its way to the Senate.
Finally, HB354, also sponsored by Wimmer, would clarify that, if federal health reform were to take effect and require Utah to establish a federal health insurance exchange, policies in the exchange would not be permitted to cover elective abortions.
That bill passed 57-13.
House passes anti-abortion measures
The following bills now face Senate action:
HB171 • would require twice-a-year inspection of abortion clinics, one of them an unannounced visit
HB353 • would guarantee a physician the right to refuse to perform an abortion
HB354 • would prohibit a health insurance exchange from offering policies covering elective abortions