Gov. Cox says he opposes abortion restrictions beyond Utah’s trigger law

Gov. Spencer Cox said the state should focus on prevention and support, not punishment.

(Laura Seitz | Pool) Gov. Spencer Cox speaks during the PBS Utah governor's monthly news conference at the Eccles Broadcast Center in Salt Lake City on Thursday, April 21, 2022. Cox said Tuesday, May 10, that Utah's current laws to restrict abortion would be sufficient if the Supreme Court were to overturn Roe v. Wade.

Inspired by a leaked draft Supreme Court opinion that suggests the justices have enough votes to overturn Roe v. Wade, some Republican politicians across the country are working to pass severe restrictions on abortion, but Utah Gov. Spencer Cox says he is not one of them.

“I’m very pleased with the law that’s on the books,” Cox said during a Tuesday news conference. The governor’s office later clarified that Cox was referring to Utah’s 2020 trigger law.

If Roe v. Wade is reversed, the decision to regulate abortion will return to individual states. That prospect has lawmakers in several states racing to enact new restrictions or expand access to abortion, depending on which party is in control. Other states, like Utah, already have “trigger laws,” which will go into effect if Roe is reversed.

In 2019, Utah lawmakers passed a law banning abortions after 18 weeks of pregnancy. The following year, lawmakers went a step further and approved a near-total ban on abortion, with exceptions for rape, incest and the mother’s health. A complete reversal of Roe would trigger the more restrictive law, while a narrower ruling from the Supreme Court could make the 18-week ban enforceable.

Several states still have anti-abortion measures from before Roe that criminalize abortion, with some proposals being tossed around by Republicans would make abortions a felony punishable by prison time. Missouri Republicans are considering a bill to ban women from traveling out of state for abortions, Politico reported. Cox says that would be a bridge too far.

“I don’t think we should penalize women at all for anything,” Cox said.

Cox says if, as expected, Roe is reversed, the state should explore ways to embrace the concept of “pro-life.”

“Our focus has to be on improving the lives of women in our state. If you care about life, that means all life, not just life in the womb,” Cox said.

The governor said the state should focus on providing more opportunities for mothers and children, increasing support for adoption and foster families and working to prevent unwanted pregnancies.

“If we get to the point where a woman needs an abortion, then something has failed along the way,” Cox said.

But it’s not just a focus on women that Cox would like to see, leaning on basic biology to make his point.

“It takes two to make a baby, and too often, that burden falls disproportionately on the mother and not on the father. We need to hold men responsible,” Cox said.