House committee OKs 18-week abortion ban opposed by some as ‘arbitrary’, ‘paternalistic’ and likely unconstitutional

(Scott Sommerdorf | Tribune file photo) In this 2015 file photo, abortion protesters hold signs as they bow their heads while they listen to Robert Woods read a prayer outside the Salt Lake City Planned Parenthood as part of a nationwide protest, Aug. 22, 2015. A Utah House committee on Wednesday endorsed a proposed ban on abortions after 18 weeks of gestation.

A proposed 18-week cap on legal, elective abortions earned a muted victory in committee Wednesday, with two Republicans joining three Democrats in a 7-5 vote to send the bill to the full Utah House for debate.

Freshman Rep. Steve Waldrip, R-Eden, said he philosophically objects to message bills that invite litigation, adding that HB136 would not survive a legal challenge unless, and until, the U.S. Supreme Court overturns its precedents on abortion rights. And it’s troubling, Waldrip said, for lawmakers to suggest they’re working to preserve the health and safety of Utah women in spite of themselves.

“There’s an arbitrary nature and a paternalistic nature to this that just doesn’t quite sit with me quite yet,” Waldrip said.

Rep. Cheryl Acton, R-West Jordan, originally intended to sponsor a 15-week ban. But she substituted her bill to bolster its odds of surviving a likely legal challenge. “There is no connection, really, between viability and 18 weeks,” Acton said. “I guess I’m challenging the viability concept.”

“We now have a window into the womb; back then we didn’t,” said Gayle Ruzicka, president of the Utah Eagle Forum. “Now things have really changed and we can see these little babies.”

And Mary Taylor, president of Pro-Life Utah, criticized the procedure of later-term abortions, which can include the induced vaginal birth of an unviable fetus or the dismemberment of a fetus in utero.

“This is a horrendous and barbaric procedure,” Taylor said. “Dismembering and crushing a live baby has no place in a civilized society.”

She said the decision of whether or not to have an abortion can be “gut-wrenching” for families, and said the bill could add confusion and misunderstanding to state law while impeding a patient’s autonomy.

“These families deserve privacy, autonomy and medical care delivered with care and compassion,” Heuser said.