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House OKs bill to criminalize intentional miscarriages

Published January 29, 2010 7:04 pm

Poll » Utahns split on whether to allow prosecution of women seeking illegal abortions.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2010, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

A bill that would criminalize an intentional miscarriage cleared the House on Friday in a 59-12 vote and now goes to the Senate.

Rep. Carl Wimmer sponsored HB12 in response to a widely publicized incident in Vernal, when a pregnant minor paid someone to beat her in hopes of causing a miscarriage.

Current statute made it impossible to charge the 17-year-old girl with a crime, a "loophole" that the Herriman Republican aims to close.

In fact, Wimmer feels so strongly about prosecuting women in such cases that he included a provision that, if HB12 receives a two-thirds majority vote in both the House and Senate, the measure would take effect as soon as Gov. Gary Herbert adds his signature.

"This is the type of crime that needs to get on the books immediately," Wimmer said.

HB12 exempts legal abortions that are medical procedures that take place under a physician's care.

The measure was amended Friday to prevent a woman from being prosecuted if a physician performing an abortion fails to give her information. It also was amended to prevent a woman who miscarries from being prosecuted under the measure.

Speaking from personal experience, Rep. Rebecca Chavez-Houck, D-Salt Lake City, thanked Rep. Phil Riesen, D-Holladay, for his miscarriage amendment.

"When you go through the pain of losing a wanted child, you always question whether there was something you couldn't have done -- or something that you did -- to make you have a happy outcome," Chavez-Houck said, her voice cracking with emotion.

Rep. Christine Johnson, D-Salt Lake City, spoke passionately against the bill, which she said targets one isolated incident.

"This bill does something horrible," said Johnson, a single mother and lesbian who is carrying a child for a gay couple.

"Six-thousand women lose their babies every year through no fault of their own," Johnson said, concerned that HB12 could worsen an already traumatic event. "An overly unhappy father, disappointed at the loss of his child, with one phone call to police could make that woman subject to interrogation."

Rep. Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, also voiced opposition to the bill.

"What we've seen here in Vernal is on outlier," King said. "I have concerns about whether we're on terrain that is unduly intrusive into people's private lives."

A Salt Lake Tribune poll found that a plurality of Utahns oppose repealing the current prohibition on prosecuting a woman for seeking or obtaining an illegal abortion.

Of the 625 registered voters questioned, 46 percent said they would oppose repealing the law that says a woman cannot be prosecuted for such activity. At the same time, 39 percent supported such a change and 15 percent were undecided.

In a phone interview Friday, poll respondent and Ogden resident Jayne McComb argued in favor of leaving the law as it is.

"How can someone tell you what you can and cannot do with your body," said McComb, a Mormon and a Republican. "It's your decision and your life."

Poll participant Bret Smith -- a Catholic and Democrat from Draper -- described himself as "definitely pro-choice" but said he supports Wimmer's legislation and believes women should be held liable in such cases.

"There's a humane way of doing it and an inhumane way," Smith said of terminating an unwanted pregnancy. "If you're going to do it, do it legally."

Wimmer, often vocal against big government, saw no conflict with that ideology and HB12.

"You won't find anyone on this floor who wants a smaller, lesser government than myself," Wimmer said.

"However, the proper role of government," Wimmer added, "as outlined in the Declaration of Independence, is to protect those inalienable rights, among them life."

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