Poll: Most Utahns would oppose tighter abortion restrictions

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Katrina Barker with Planned Parenthood of Utah presents the findings of the 2020 Reproductive Rights Poll on Monday at the Capitol. Alliance for a Better Utah, Planned Parenthood of Utah, the ACLU of Utah and Family Planning Elevated released the results of a Utah-specific poll on the issues of sex education, contraceptive access and abortion, Feb. 24, 2020.

Newly released polling data suggests most Utahns are against tightening restrictions on abortion in the state, even as lawmakers consider measures aimed at virtually eliminating the procedure.

Seventy percent of those surveyed initially said they either supported loosening the state’s abortion laws or leaving them the same, according to the statewide survey commissioned by Planned Parenthood Association of Utah, Alliance for a Better Utah and the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah. That number jumped to 80% after respondents were informed of the state’s current restrictions on the procedure.

“As a state, we have already placed so many obstacles in the path of women when it comes to exercising reproductive freedom,” Marina Lowe, legislative and policy counsel for the ACLU of Utah, said during a Monday news conference. “Our lawmakers should heed their constituents and focus their valuable and limited legislative days left this session on efforts to improve the health and well-being of Utahns rather than the pursuit of additional mean-spirited abortion restrictions.”

The survey results come as the Legislature considers a trio of proposals on abortions in the state. One sponsored by Sen. Dan McCay, R-Riverton, would outlaw elective abortions in Utah as soon as the Supreme Court permits. Another would force women to receive an ultrasound before an abortion. And a third would require medical providers to cremate or bury fetal remains following a miscarriage or abortion.

“These bills are attacks on the agency and the well-being of Utahns,” said Karrie Galloway, CEO and president of Planned Parenthood Association of Utah. “And as these polls show, they’re not what Utahns want.”

But McCay said Monday that he believes the nation’s attitudes on the subject of abortion as well as its approach to health care has shifted enough to warrant a reexamination of court precedent.

“I am hopeful that we are getting to a point that we no longer view favorably the killing of our unborn,” he said. “That’s the reason to run the bill.”

House Speaker Brad Wilson told reporters Monday he hasn’t yet seen McCay’s bill, SB174, but predicted his colleagues would give it serious consideration if the proposal arrives in their chamber.

“I am very pro-life,” Wilson, R-Kaysville, said. “I suspect that if that makes it from the Senate to the House, that it will pass."

Before receiving an abortion in Utah, a woman must already complete a 72-hour waiting period and watch an information module that says the state prefers childbirth to abortion and presents adoption as the preferred choice. The state also requires abortion providers to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital.

And Lowe said the Legislature nearly every year debates proposals that would make it even more difficult to get an abortion.

Last session, the state passed a law that would ban elective abortions after 18 weeks’ gestation and legislation that seeks to prohibit the procedure based on a fetal Down syndrome diagnosis. The 18-week ban is on hold during an ongoing legal challenge filed by the ACLU and Planned Parenthood.

The poll, which delved into a sweep of reproductive issues, indicated that a slight majority of Utahns want to uphold Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court’s landmark abortion rights ruling, and that about two-thirds support medically accurate sex education rather than an abstinence-centered curriculum. About 80% indicated they find it important to provide state funding for reproductive health services.

Support for Roe v. Wade was driven by Democrats and voters not affiliated with a political party. Just 26% of Republicans supported the decision.

Mary Taylor, president of Pro-Life Utah, said she doesn’t put much stock in polls, with the potential for skewing results based on how questions are worded. Her sense is that Utahns are firmly behind anti-abortion policies, and she pointed to last month’s March for Life as a better gauge of public sentiment on the issue.

“Utah has traditionally been a pretty pro-life state, but I do think that the more technology and the more that science shines a light on the humanity of the unborn baby, I think those views are increasingly passionate,” she said.

But Lauren Simpson, policy director with Alliance for a Better Utah, argued the poll demonstrates the Legislature should focus on strengthening sex education, expanding reproductive health services and family-friendly economic policies. Instead, lawmakers are “grandstanding” on divisive abortion bills, she said.

“This is an election year, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that these extreme anti-abortion laws are coming up in an election year,” she said.

Dan Jones and Associates called cellphones and landlines to survey 793 Utahns from Jan. 23 through Feb. 9. The margin of error was plus or minus 3.48%, according to the executive summary.

Tribune reporter Benjamin Wood contributed to this report.