Utah lawmaker wants to expand where victims can report rapes in order to get abortion

Under state trigger law, there must be a report made to law enforcement.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Rep. Jennifer Dailey-Provost, D-Salt Lake City, pictured in 2020 at the Capitol, announced Tuesday, June, 28, 2022, that she will reintroduce a bill to broaden the list of entities to whom a rape can be legally reported to include crisis centers, domestic violence resource centers, and physicians, in light of Utah's abortion trigger law.

Utah’s trigger law requires rape victims to report to law enforcement in order to qualify for an abortion — but Rep. Jennifer Dailey-Provost announced Tuesday she will reintroduce a bill broadening the list of where sexual assaults can be reported.

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 trigger law is now on hold, after a state judge granted a request Monday for a temporary restraining order to block the law from being enforced for the next two weeks.

The trigger law would ban abortions in the Beehive State, except for a few limited circumstances, including if the pregnancy was caused by a rape or incest. Before performing an abortion, though, the physician will have to verify the rape or incest has been reported to law enforcement, the law states.

The bill from Dailey-Provost, D-Salt Lake City, would allow a rape to also be legally reported to crisis centers, domestic violence resource centers and physicians.

“Most women who are raped will not report their assault to police for many reasons,” Dailey-Provost said in a statement. “Victims of sexual assault are often consumed by shame and fears of retaliation. They worry about how they will be judged. Many fear that our criminal justice system does not have the capacity to meet their needs.”

The lawmaker added, “We need to offer survivors of rape or incest multiple avenues to report the crime and receive the care and treatment they need without being retraumatized.”

Utah’s rape rate has been consistently higher than the U.S. rate, according to the Utah Department of Health — with even that statistic considered an underestimate, since rape is an underreported crime. And in Utah, people can have evidence collected with a sexual assault kit, and receive the health care they need, without having to report their rape to police right away.

Dailey-Provost sponsored a similar bill during the 2020 legislative session, which did not pass. The bill, HB65, would have removed requirements that a physician verify a report had been made to law enforcement before performing an abortion on a woman who was pregnant as a result of rape or incest.

In addition to the exception for rape and incest, Utah’s trigger law also allows abortions to be performed:

• 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 Planned Parenthood Association of Utah filed a lawsuit Saturday in 3rd District Court to block the trigger law, arguing that it violates rights given to Utahns in the state’s constitution. An attorney representing the organization said Monday that they plan to also ask for a preliminary injunction this week.

Another hearing is scheduled in the case on July 11.