Utah now bans abortions after 18 weeks, as 2019 law goes into effect while trigger law is on hold

HB136, sponsored by Rep. Cheryl Acton, had been in limbo since 2019.

A Utah law banning abortions after 18 weeks of pregnancy is now in effect, while the state’s trigger law is on hold.

In 2019, the Utah Legislature passed the 18-week ban through HB136, but it was blocked by a federal judge. A lawsuit challenged the constitutionality of the ban, and the judge issued an injunction that kept the law from being enforced while that case was pending.

That lawsuit, filed by the Planned Parenthood Association of Utah, had been on hold for years, as attorneys waited for the U.S. Supreme Court to rule in an abortion case titled Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization from Mississippi.

On Friday, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in that case, 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.

But the trigger law — which would ban abortions in the Beehive State except in a few limited circumstances — 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.

In the meantime, the 18-week ban can now go into place — because the injunction against it was dismissed and that federal case was closed Monday, said Rep. Cheryl Acton, who sponsored HB136, in a news release Tuesday.

“As a state, Utah values human life at all ages and stages and under all circumstances,” Acton, R-West Jordan, said. “HB136 will protect unborn children after 18 weeks’ gestation pending the outcome of SB174.”

A spokesperson with the Utah Attorney General’s Office confirmed to The Salt Lake Tribune Tuesday afternoon that the 18-week ban is now in effect.

With that restriction, Planned Parenthood Association of Utah is still providing abortions — and “still has a right to challenge the 18-week ban,” noted Karrie Galloway, its president and CEO, in a statement.

”Planned Parenthood’s doors are open, and we will continue to provide abortion care according to the law,” Galloway said. “The dismissal of our case against HB136 was a procedural move after the Supreme Court’s ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.

“Rest assured, PPAU still has a right to challenge the 18-week ban in a future case. For now, we are focused on challenging the trigger ban in state court and doing all we can to provide care to our patients.”

Sen. Dan McCay, who sponsored the state’s trigger law, said “H.B. 136 is a great step forward” in a statement to The Tribune. “... Though I believe life begins at conception,” he added.

“My heart aches over the lives that will not have an opportunity during the two-week stay” of the trigger law, the Riverton Republican said. “Children, including the unborn, should be protected at all stages of life.”

HB136 bans abortions after 18 weeks, except in these 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 in writing ... that the fetus has a defect that is uniformly diagnosable and uniformly lethal” or “has a severe brain abnormality that is uniformly diagnosable.”

• The pregnancy is a result of rape or incest. Before performing an abortion, the physician will have to verify the rape or incest has been reported to law enforcement.

HB136 was co-sponsored in 2019 by then-Sen. Deidre Henderson, who now serves as Utah’s lieutenant governor.

Utah’s trigger law allows for the same exceptions as the 18-week ban.

Most of the abortions in Utah in 2019 were done at seven or eight weeks of gestation, according to the most recent statewide data available from the Utah Department of Health’s Office of Vital Records and Statistics.

Of the 2,776 abortions sought by Utah residents that year, 138 (5%) were performed between 15 to 20 weeks gestation, while 28 (1%) were at 21 weeks or longer.

(Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)