Utah to have nation's first 72-hour abortion waiting period
Come Tuesday, Utah will become the only state in the nation with a law requiring a woman to wait 72 hours for an abortion.
"For some people that may be a point of celebration," said Planned Parenthood of Utah Director Karrie Galloway. "For others it may be a point of heartache."
HB461 is one of 331 laws passed by the 2012 Legislature that kick in Tuesday and for some it is the most controversial.
South Dakota was the first state to pass a 72-hour waiting period, but that law, which includes a requirement that a woman receive counseling at an anti-abortion clinic, was blocked by a court challenge before it ever took effect. No other state requires a waiting period of more than 24 hours.
Opponents of Utah's law haven't ruled out a lawsuit but "the reality of doing a legal challenge is daunting the cost and time, all of that," Galloway said. "We will be looking at it to see how it affects people, how it affects our providers as well as women."
Sponsoring Rep. Steve Eliason, R-Sandy, believes the concerns are misplaced.
"I think it's a positive change for women and children," said Eliason. "At the end of the day, it's a consumer-protection law.
"The focus of this bill is women having time to consider all of the information that is given to them when facing a life-altering decision that somebody else is making money off of," he said.
Eliason compared it to a cancer patient receiving all the relevant information before beginning treatment. And he pointed to legal waiting periods already in force for such things as adoptions, mortgage approval, marriage and divorce all of which can be undone.
"I've never known anybody who's undone an abortion," Eliason said.
Gayle Ruzicka, head of the Utah Eagle Forum, is among those who will be in a celebratory mood Tuesday.
She counts the new abortion law as a victory, along with a new law, HB316, that requires a 90-day waiting period to obtain a divorce.
"We did have a good year until the governor messed it up," Ruzicka said, pointing to Gov. Gary Herbert's veto of HB363, which would have allowed school districts to drop sex education and required abstinence-only instruction for those who kept it.
Ruzicka said Utah's abortion legislation is sound.
"We made sure we didn't have anything in that bill that would be challenged," Ruzicka said. "Every concern that Planned Parenthood or the ACLU or anybody had, we fixed."
Not so, Galloway says.
"We are trying to comply with the law, but it is an extremely frustrating situation," she said. "I'm equally, if not more, frustrated with [the bill sponsor's] intent to impose his morality but not set up a system that will work."
Galloway said the way the law was written, no one is in charge of overseeing compliance or writing rules so that everyone knows what is required under the statute.
"We're left with a system that right now puts the burden in fact a possible criminal burden on the physician providing the procedure with no verifiable process for confirming the informed consent."
The Utah Department of Health's Nan Streeter confirms that the law gives her agency no oversight authority.
"We talked with our attorney and also with the deputy director of the department to ask about what we were responsible for, and the way the law was written, the only authority the Department of Health has is related to the development of the abortion consent materials," said Streeter, deputy director of the Division of Family Health and Preparedness. "There's no provision for the department to either enforce or oversee the consent process."
Eliason points out that enforcement and oversight is no different than under current law and he's not aware of problems with verification, compliance or enforcement: "If they want more rules and regulations regarding putting the process in motion, I'm sure there are a lot of people willing to make the law more stringent than it is."
Utahns, get familiar with your new laws
Among legislation taking effect Tuesday:
SB21 • Changes the makeup of state environmental boards, beginning with the Radiation Control Board.
HB155 • Requires some public-assistance recipients to undergo drug screening.
HB92 • Criminalizes hit-and-run accidents in boats.
HB33 • Scales back the number of days and hours for legal use of fireworks.
HB245 • Bans smoking of hookahs and e-cigarettes in public places though an exception is made for existing hookah bars.
SB245 • Doubles the $25 bounty for coyotes.
SB14 • Requires minors patronizing a tanning salon to be accompanied by a parent.
SB223 • Requires recital daily of the Pledge of Allegiance in secondary school classrooms.
SB208 • Has Utah join an interstate compact to opt out of national health reform.