Gov. Gary Herbert signs bill that aims to end Down syndrome-based abortions in Utah

(Trent Nelson | Tribune file photo) Kelsey Askea and other supporters of Planned Parenthood Association of Utah gathered in a silent protest in the Utah State Capitol Rotunda Friday March 1, 2019, while a 12-foot birdhouse art installation broadcast statements from Utah constituents.

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert has signed off on a measure that could ultimately ban abortions performed solely because of a fetal Down syndrome diagnosis.

The prohibition is on hold because of the probability that it would be challenged on constitutional grounds and will only kick in if courts uphold similar restrictions in another state.

Rep. Karianne Lisonbee, R-Clearfield, has said she sponsored the measure as a safeguard against social engineering, and the Legislature approved it over the objections of Democrats who said decisions about pregnancy termination should be left to a woman and her physician.

Last month in a televised news conference at KUED, Herbert said the proposed restriction on Down syndrome-based abortions sent a message.

"If that's the reason you want to have an abortion," he said, "that's probably not a good reason."

He signed the bill Friday along with more than 160 others passed by the Legislature in the session that ended last week.

While the abortion ban will remain on hold for the time being, other elements of the bill take effect immediately. For instance, the proposal calls on the Utah Department of Health to create a website with links to support organizations and foundations with information about Down syndrome. These resources would also be shared with women who receive a prenatal Down syndrome diagnosis.

The legislation also included exemptions from the proposed abortion ban in cases of rape or incest, if the life of the mother is at risk or if the fetus has a lethal defect.

State lawmakers this session also approved a bill that would prohibit most abortions after 18 weeks of fetal development. The American Civil Liberties Union of Utah has called on Herbert to veto the legislation. The organization and Planned Parenthood have also vowed to sue over the bill’s constitutionality if it becomes law.