Remove criminal penalties for doctors who perform abortions? Utah lawmaker offers bill

Rep. Jennifer Dailey-Provost and Rep. Angela Romero say they want to address penalties for physicians and rape reporting requirements.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Rep. Angela Romero speaks at a rally, as more than one thousand protesters gather at the steps of The Capitol for the Bans Off Our Bodies protest hosted by Planned Parenthood, on Tuesday, May 3, 2022. Romero, D-Salt Lake City, said Wednesday, June 29, 2022, that she is proposing a bill removing penalties for physicians in Utah's abortion laws.

State lawmakers are already looking at ways to update Utah’s abortion laws, less than a week after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.

Rep. Angela Romero told The Salt Lake Tribune on Wednesday that she is proposing a bill that would remove criminal penalties for health care providers who provide abortion services.

“Nobody should be afraid to be penalized or prosecuted for providing scientifically sound medical advice,” said Romero, D-Salt Lake City.

Sen. Dan McCay, R-Riverton, has filed a bill titled “Proposal to Amend Utah Constitution — Rights Relating to Abortion.” The details of that bill are not publicly available, and McCay did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday afternoon.

On Tuesday, Rep. Jennifer Dailey-Provost, D-Salt Lake City, said she will reintroduce a bill broadening the list of where rapes can be reported in order to get an abortion, under the sexual assault exemption in Utah’s trigger law.

Since the Supreme Court’s ruling Friday, which sent the ability to regulate abortion back to the states, there have been two Utah laws that have come into play.

First, the state’s trigger law — sponsored by McCay in 2020 — went into effect, banning most abortions except for a few limited circumstances. But on Monday, a state judge granted a temporary restraining order, blocking the trigger law from being enforced for two weeks. That allowed another Utah law, banning abortions after 18 weeks of pregnancy, to go into effect in its place.

Both laws provide an exemption if a pregnancy was caused by rape or incest. Before performing an abortion, though, the physician would have to verify the rape or incest has been reported to law enforcement, the law states.

“Most women who are raped will not report their assault to police for many reasons,” Dailey-Provost said in a statement Tuesday. That’s why the representative said she is running a bill that would also allow sexual assaults to be legally reported to crisis centers, domestic violence resource centers and physicians in order to be able to get an abortion.

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.

The 18-week ban and trigger law also create penalties for physicians who break those laws. For instance, the trigger law states that “a person who performs an abortion in violation of this section is guilty of a second-degree felony.”

Decisions about whether a person should have an abortion should not be made by policymakers, the courts or religious institutions, according to Romero. Rather, “that should be between that individual patient and their health care provider,” she said, without risk of penalties.

These bills are proposed for the 2023 general session.

Timeline of Utah’s abortion laws

March 2019: Utah Legislature passes HB136, banning abortions after 18 weeks of pregnancy.

April 2019: Planned Parenthood Association of Utah sues, challenging the constitutionality of the 18-week ban. A federal judge issues an injunction that keeps the law from being enforced while that case is pending.

March 2020: Utah Legislature passes SB174, creating a trigger law that would ban most abortions in the Beehive State if the U.S. Supreme Court ever overturned Roe v. Wade.

Morning of June 24, 2022: U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade.

Evening of June 24, 2022: Utah’s trigger law (SB174) goes into effect.

June 25, 2022: Planned Parenthood Association of Utah sues, arguing trigger law violates rights in Utah Constitution.

June 27, 2022: An emergency court hearing is held. A state judge grants a temporary restraining order, blocking the trigger law from being enforced for two weeks. Meanwhile, the federal lawsuit over the 18-week ban is dismissed.

June 28, 2022: Utah’s 18-week ban goes into effect, while trigger law is on hold.