Utah Gov. Gary Herbert signed legislation Tuesday requiring women to wait 72 hours before receiving an abortion, giving the state the longest waiting period in the country.
"The governor is an adamant supporter of rights for the unborn and felt the bill appropriately allows a woman facing such a decision time to fully weigh her options, as well as the implications of the decision," said Ally Isom, the governor’s spokeswoman.
But Marina Lowe, an attorney with the Utah chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, which urged the governor to veto the bill, said the new Utah law raises serious constitutional questions.
"I think our major concern overall is just simply that this is quite extreme to go to 72 hours and makes the starting point the assumption — which we think is wrong — that women aren’t thinking about this decision," Lowe said.
Under HB461, a woman seeking an abortion would have to wait 72 hours after a face-to-face consultation that describes the gestation of the fetus and provides information about alternatives, including adoption.
South Dakota has a similar waiting period, but that law has been blocked by a federal judge who has said that the requirement may be unconstitutional because it imposes a burden on women, particularly those in rural parts of the state.
Utah’s law was amended to include a provision that allows women to receive the initial consultation at a location apart from the clinic where the abortion would be performed, an attempt to avoid the woman having to make two trips.
"We believe a court will find that 72 hours for a waiting period is not an undue burden," Isom said.
The measure, which triples the current waiting period of 24 hours, takes effect on May 7.
There are currently four abortion providers in Utah, all of them in Salt Lake County. Karrie Galloway, executive director of Planned Parenthood of Utah, said all four are going through licensing and it’s unclear if they will all remain open.
She said the Planned Parenthood clinic, for example, only performs abortions once a week, meaning a 72-hour waiting period creates logistical problems and could delay the abortion long enough that it can no longer be done.
"I think it’s a shame that [the governor] didn’t ask women, who this affects, as to whether this enhances their decision or only prolongs it. No one seem to care about the women," Galloway said.
She said the question of whether Utah’s law will be challenged in court is still being considered.
The bill was approved by the Legislature late in the session and passed the Senate in less than a minute with no debate on a party-line vote.
The bill has an exception that allows a doctor to terminate a pregnancy without the waiting period if it is necessary to avoid an infection.
But Lowe pointed out that there is no exception allowing a doctor to forego the waiting period in cases where the fetus could not possibly survive. That means a woman could have to carry a fetus three more days, knowing it is not viable.
"It’s just sort of cruel to tell a woman that," said Lowe. "It also raises the question of: What is the state’s interest in requiring a woman to wait 72 hours if there’s no chance of the pregnancy resulting in a baby?"
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