House of Representatives members voted resoundingly Friday to require a parent's consent before a girl under 18 years old can have an abortion. By a similar margin, lawmakers also signed off on legislation that would require doctors to inform women seeking abortions after 20 weeks gestation that their fetuses can feel pain. Both bills now go to the Senate for debate.
Ogden Republican Rep. Kerry Gibson, sponsor of the consent proposal , HB85, said his bill is only "somewhat about abortion." He is more concerned about protecting the rights of parents to make such decisions for their children.
"We have to protect the lives of those babies. We also have to protect the lives of these youth. But we need to protect the rights of the parents," Gibson said. "We're trying to bring the rights and the decision-making process back into the living room. Too many times, these decisions are being made outside of the home."
Gibson's bill would change Utah's 30-year-old law requiring parental notification. Under the legislation, a doctor would have to get at least one parent's permission 24 hours before the procedure. Doctors could proceed without consent in cases where a girl fears abuse or is pregnant as the result of incest. The legislation would allow a girl to petition a judge, rather than her parent, for permission. The draft also would provide an exception for emergencies and in cases where not aborting a fetus could lead to a girl's death or "serious risk of substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function."
Republican lawmakers believe it is the responsibility of parents to control the actions of their children.
Rep. Scott Wyatt, R-Logan, said he wants to make the decision for his three teenage daughters. "I'm as opposed to abortion as anyone. But there are times when it's appropriate," Wyatt said. "I don't want my 14-, 15- or 16-year-old daughter going through life thinking she's the one who murdered her fetus. If she gets an abortion, I want to be there. I want to assure her it's a decision I made, not her."
The American Civil Liberties Union has called the consent law "constitutionally suspect," because it could allow parents to be notified while a girl is appealing to a judge.
Rep. Susan Lawrence, R-Millcreek, worried that girls who had been abused could be victimized by that loophole. "If doctors still have to notify the parent, we haven't protected that minor at all," she said. Lawrence was the only Republican woman to speak during Friday's debate, while several Democratic women questioned the bills.
Rep. David Litvack, D-Salt Lake City, attempted to amend Gibson's bill to eliminate the possibility of a parent being notified while a girl is petitioning the court for a judicial bypass. But Republican lawmakers rejected any changes to the legislation, figuring they are on "sound legal footing."
And Rep. Roz McGee, also a Salt Lake City Democrat, asked Gibson if he would support legislation to require parents to give their children education about sex and sexually transmitted diseases.
But House Speaker Greg Curtis would not allow the question. "You're asking his position on an issue that's not addressed anywhere in the bill," he said.
Conservative House members also held off Holladay Democratic Rep. Carol Moss' efforts to cut a section of the fetal pain bill sponsored by Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield. The legislation would require the Utah Department of Health to prepare a "truthful, nonmisleading" brochure on fetal pain.
Despite disagreement among scientists about when fetuses feel pain, Ray's HB222 would require doctors to inform women seeking late-term abortions that their unborn child can feel pain and to provide anesthetic if they ask for it.
"It isn't established science. Where would you go for the truth?" Moss asked. "How can we ask a state agency to provide information that they don't know is truthful?"
Ray insisted such a government publication is necessary to counter messages given by doctors who might be reluctant to follow the law.
"There is plenty of information on both sides of the argument. I could write that part of the flier personally," he said.
House members approved both bills by large margins: 65-8 for the consent bill, and 63-8 for the fetal pain bill. The opposing votes were all cast by Democrats.
Planned Parenthood Director Karrie Galloway said her abortion-rights organization will raise legal questions about the legislation with senators next week. "The House didn't really care about that," she said.