Utah’s Republican leaders are weighing in ahead of a Supreme Court decision in a Mississippi case that could greatly alter abortion law. They are urging the justices to drop any national right to the medical procedure.
Utah’s attorney general joined with those from 23 other states in filing a “friend of the court” brief Thursday that pointedly argues the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling in 1973 “was lawless since the day it was decided.”
Utah’s four House members signed onto a brief that includes 184 House members and 44 senators. They argue “Mississippi’s case provides the court a chance to release its vise grip on abortion politics.”
And Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, has joined with two colleagues in filing his own brief that asserts the court’s previous abortion rulings remain unworkable.
The case in question — Mississippi’s abortion ban after the 15th week of pregnancy — will be heard by the justices later this year and a decision is expected sometime in 2022.
This case is gaining such attention because it is the most direct challenge to the right to an abortion to come before the court since the confirmation of Justice Amy Coney Barrett. With her addition, the court now has a clear 6-3 conservative majority.
In the brief filed by 24 states, including Utah, the attorneys general argue that “the time has come to return the question of abortion to where it belongs — with the states.”
If the court strikes down Roe and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which changed the legal standard to restrict abortions, it would trigger a now-dormant law passed by the Utah Legislature in 2020. That law would ban all abortions in Utah except in cases of rape, incest and to protect the health of the mother.
If the justices don’t go that far, but decide Mississippi can ban abortions after 15 weeks, it could mean Utah could implement another law it had passed banning abortions after 18 weeks. That law remains tied up in court.
“We support the petition to the Supreme Court because, similar to Mississippi’s law, Utah’s law prohibiting elective abortions after 18 weeks is constitutional,” argued Utah Solicitor General Melissa Holyoak. “Nothing in the Constitution prevents states from enacting reasonable measures to safeguard the dignity of all human beings, including the unborn.”
A majority of Utah lawmakers at the state and federal level have long opposed abortion access. As state Sen. Dan McCay, R-Riverton, put it in 2020, “It’s the government’s role to speak up for those who can’t speak for themselves. It is one of our primary duties, and the unborn cannot speak.”
He sponsored the trigger law banning abortions.
Sen. Luz Escamilla, D-Salt Lake City, like the rest of Utah’s Democratic senators, opposed this law. She said women and families should make their own decision on abortion.
“Right now, there’s probably a family in the hospital making a really tough decision with information that none of us have,” she said. “It’s related to their future, their family, their baby.”
Karrie Galloway, the president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Action Council of Utah, said “being in the reproductive rights world, I can’t imagine further restricting women’s bodily choice, and I don’t think that is considered to the extent that it should be.”
She mentioned the high number of people, above 60%, who want Roe to remain in place, according to recent polling.
“It is the electeds who want to run our lives,” she said, “not the people.”