Update: Utah now bans abortions after 18 weeks, as 2019 law goes into effect while trigger law is on hold.
Doctors can continue to provide abortions in the Beehive State for the next two weeks, a state judge decided Monday.
Third District Judge Andrew Stone granted a request from Planned Parenthood Association of Utah to issue a temporary restraining order blocking enforcement of Utah’s trigger law. The order goes into effect immediately and will last 14 days, Stone said in a virtual court hearing Monday afternoon.
“There is irreparable harm,” Stone said, that could be done without the order in place.
After announcing his decision, the judge said, “I think the immediate effects that will occur outweigh any policy interests of the state in stopping abortions immediately. Doctors here are threatened with felonies. The affected women are deprived of safe, local medical treatments to terminate pregnancies.”
On Friday, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, returning the power to regulate abortions to the states. That evening, Utah’s abortion trigger law — passed by the Utah Legislature in 2020 as SB174 — went into effect.
The law bans abortions in the Beehive State, except in these limited circumstances:
• If it “is necessary to avert the death” or if there is “a serious risk of substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function” of the pregnant woman.
• “Two physicians who practice maternal fetal medicine concur ... that the fetus has a defect that is uniformly diagnosable and uniformly lethal,” or “has a severe brain abnormality that is uniformly diagnosable.” According to the law, this does not include Down syndrome, spina bifida, cerebral palsy or any condition “that does not cause an individual to live in a mentally vegetative state.”
• The pregnancy was caused by a rape or incest. Before performing an abortion, the physician will have to verify the rape or incest has been reported to law enforcement or the proper authorities.
Planned Parenthood Association of Utah filed a lawsuit Saturday in 3rd District Court to try to block the trigger law, arguing that it violates rights given to Utahns in the state’s constitution. The organization asked for an emergency hearing Monday to address their request for a temporary restraining order, which the judge granted.
Karrie Galloway, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Association of Utah, said in a statement that the organization was “grateful” for the order allowing abortions to resume.
“The Supreme Court ruling was devastating and terrifying for our patients and providers, but at least for now, Utahns will be able to get the care they need,” she said. “Today is a win, but it is only the first step in what will undoubtedly be a long and difficult fight. Planned Parenthood will always stand alongside our patients and providers — no matter what.”
After the ruling, Utah’s Planned Parenthood resumed abortions Monday afternoon at its Metro Health Center, Salt Lake Health Center and Logan Health Center, Galloway said during a virtual news conference. (The organization had stopped providing abortions when the trigger law went into effect Friday evening.)
”And we will be calling back the women who we had to turn away on Saturday so that they can come back and get their procedure if they haven’t made other arrangements,” she said.
When Galloway went to announce the judge’s ruling to people at Planned Parenthood’s Metro Health Center on Monday, she said, “there was a lot of relief in the room.”
”It would be an understatement to say that we were on pins and needles,” she said.
Planned Parenthood is available to help people with their abortions over the next two weeks, Galloway said, as well as to help them access contraception.
“Anyone who has the ability to get pregnant needs to be paying attention to their health care right now,” she said.
What happened at the hearing
After nearly half a century of people relying on access to safe, legal abortions, that right has “been upended,” said Julie Murray, an attorney with Planned Parenthood Federation of America, at the hearing Monday.
Utahns have been “deprived not only of access to abortion” with the trigger law, Murray said, “but of their access to rights under the Utah constitution, to bodily integrity, to equal protection, to decide when and whether to start a family, and to their own rights of ... conscience and to not be conscripted into parenthood or pregnancy.”
Attorney Tyler Green, who represented the state, said he hadn’t had time to submit all of the state’s arguments, due to how quickly this case has moved. But Green pointed out that none of the sections of the Utah constitution that Planned Parenthood referred to in the lawsuit specifically mention the word “abortion.”
For instance, Colorado passed a law earlier this year guaranteeing the right to an abortion in state code, Green said, while “nothing like that” appears in Utah’s laws.
Murray countered that in a constitution, “there are lots of things that are protected under a concept of equal rights, under due process for individuals that are not specifically mentioned by name in the constitution. And so I think, of course, that does not rule out coverage from abortion.”
Green also argued that “the Supreme Court has been clear that states have strong interests in protecting the life of its unborn citizens and the integrity and ethics of its medical professions. ... And an injunction or a TRO [temporary restraining order] of the type that’s requested here would work the same harms to the state that I think the plaintiffs are concerned about suffering without one.”
Murray pointed to the three exceptions in Utah’s trigger law, “many of which have nothing to do with whether a fetus is likely to survive after birth,” she said, “but are instead based on the state’s moral policy, moral decisions about which women are worthy of having abortions and controlling their own bodies and destinies, and which women the state wishes to express disapproval of for their decision to end their pregnancy.”
There are physical, emotional and financial hardships that come with pregnancy, Murray argued, and the longer that someone has to wait for an abortion, the more expensive it is and the harder it is to get.
After the Supreme Court’s ruling Friday, “a number of states around the country have banned abortions simultaneously,” Murray argued, and “have effectively forced thousands of people across the country who are pregnant to cross state lines in search of a dwindling number of appointments.
“And to force Utahns to add to that cross-state travel,” she said, “if they could even scrape together the means to do so, would only put them in a position where if they are ever able to obtain an abortion, they will likely do so at a far later time than they would have done so had they been able to obtain abortion care in their own communities.”
Murray said that Planned Parenthood plans to also ask for a preliminary injunction this week. Another hearing is scheduled in the case on July 11.
Sen. Dan McCay, R-Riverton, who sponsored the trigger law, said on Twitter Monday, “I’m confident that Utah’s abortion ban will be upheld, and we can work to support life.”
The suit was filed for Planned Parenthood of Utah by attorneys at Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the Salt Lake City law firm Zimmerman Booher, and the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah.
The defendants in the case are the state of Utah, Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes, Gov. Spencer Cox and Mark B. Steinagel, the director of the Utah Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing.
A judge in Louisiana also temporarily blocked enforcement of that state’s trigger-law ban on abortion on Monday, according to The Associated Press.