Utah law requires that women receive comprehensive information about abortion and its alternatives at least 24 hours before the procedure. A bill now before the Legislature would extend that waiting period to 72 hours. The sponsor portrays his bill as consumer protection, but it's really about disapproval. And it may be unconstitutional.
Rep. Steve Eliason, R-Sandy, says that he knows a woman who deeply regrets that she had an abortion. He believes that women should have more time to consider the decision in light of the comprehensive information that the state requires patients receive.
He is correct that there is much to weigh, including medical facts and information about health care available to assist a woman in pregnancy, childbirth and while a child is dependent, and about adoption and the financial responsibilities of the father.
But implicit in Eliason's bill is the assumption that women either don't consider these things, or are ignorant of them, before they seek an abortion, or if they had more time they would come to a different decision. That's a broad and unfair assumption. Women vary as to age, education, knowledge, experience, relationships, families, faiths and finances. The only safe assumption is that most women agonize about having an abortion, and they think long and hard about it before seeking one.
Besides, there's nothing in the current law that prevents a woman from taking as much time as she needs after receiving the legally mandated pre-abortion counseling and before the abortion is performed.
So this bill is really about the sponsor's disapproval of abortion and erecting a longer procedural barrier before a woman can obtain one. But abortion, particularly in the first trimester, is a constitutionally protected right. So this bill raises the question of whether that 72-hour waiting period is an impermissible burden on that right. It is unclear how the courts would rule, but only one other state has imposed a 72-hour waiting period, and it has been enjoined in federal court.
What is clear is that requiring a woman to wait 72 hours would place a burden on her if she had to travel a long distance to an abortion provider. That's true of many rural Utah women. It also would burden a woman who is well informed and has made her decision.
Utah has gone to great lengths to ensure that women seeking abortions are fully informed. Beyond that it must trust women to make the best decision for themselves.
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