Utah women would have to wait three days before an abortion, the longest such waiting period in the country, under a proposal that won overwhelming approval from the House on Monday with little debate.
"An abortion cannot be undone," said Rep. Steve Eliason, R-Sandy. "Why would we not want to afford a woman facing a life-changing decision 72 hours to consider ramifications that could last a lifetime?"
HB461 would require a woman to wait 72 hours after receiving information on the procedures being used, the gestational stages of the fetus and services available if she chooses not to seek an abortion. Current Utah law imposes a 24-hour waiting period.
An amendment to the bill sought to ease the burden on women in rural areas by allowing them to get the counseling to start the clock from other providers, rather than having to go to the clinic that would provide the procedure.
The bill passed the House 59-11 and moves to the Senate for consideration before the Legislature adjourns Thursday.
Rep. Carol Spackman Moss, D-Holladay, said that in her 12 years in the Legislature, every abortion bill she has seen has had two common threads — they sought to reduce the number of abortions and, "second, they were all run by men."
The best way to reduce abortions, she said, is to offer comprehensive sex education, or to help single mothers with services for their children, both of which have been rejected by the Legislature.
"I think this is another example of government intrusion into the private, difficult decisions that adults have to make," said Moss, the only representative to speak against the measure in a debate that lasted less than 15 minutes.
All 11 no votes came from Democrats, while four of the minority party members were absent and two joined with Republicans in voting for the bill. One other state — South Dakota — has implemented a 72-hour waiting period for abortion, but a federal judge has blocked that law from taking effect, saying the waiting period and other restrictions in the law posed an undue burden to women seeking an abortion.
"That makes Utah the most pejorative in telling women how much time they need to take," said Karrie Galloway, director of Planned Parenthood of Utah.
Galloway said that Eliason’s bill operates on a flawed assumption that women are taking the minimal amount of time before getting an abortion, rather than taking the time they need to make a decision.
"He is assuming that women need more time than they take. This is a personal decision, and people take the time they need," she said. "I personally believe that women should be given all the information they need and take the time they need to make the decision. The state of Utah doesn’t need to tell them how much time to take to make that decision."
Galloway said she works to make sure women have access to family planning services and that they don’t feel like they have to choose to have an abortion.
But Eliason said his bill is "pro-consumer." He pointed to a number of other procedures, from sterilization to marriage licensing, to firearms purchases and others that have comparable waiting periods.
Abortion, Eliason argued, has a profound long-term impact and should have a comparable waiting period.
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