Utah abortion clinics will close in 2024 if new bill is passed

The proposed legislation from Rep. Karianne Lisonbee would add an exception for children under 12 who become pregnant, and it limits exceptions for rape and incest to pregnancies.

(Rick Bowmer | AP) A sign is shown in front of Planned Parenthood of Utah Tuesday, June 28, 2022, in Salt Lake City. A proposed bill would ban abortion clinics in Utah.

As a near-total abortion ban makes its way through Utah’s courts, Republican lawmakers are proposing a bill that would ban abortion clinics in the Beehive State.

Proposed by Rep. Karianne Lisonbee, R-Clearfield, and sponsored by the same senator who put forward the 2020 trigger law that is currently on hold, the proposal — titled “Abortion Changes” — would stop licensing abortion clinics in May, and would ban the operation of all abortion clinics starting in January 2024.

The state’s blocked abortion ban makes exceptions for rape or incest, but requires doctors to verify those crimes have been reported to law enforcement. Lisonbee’s bill would limit exceptions for rape and incest to pregnancies that have not yet reached 18 weeks, and remove the reporting requirement to children under age 12, a Utah House spokesperson clarified on Wednesday.

It also would make it a criminal offense for anyone other than doctors licensed in Utah to prescribe abortion pills and unprofessional conduct for health care providers to violate Utah’s abortion laws.

Utah currently has two clinics that perform surgical abortions, and four that offer abortion pills. Under the law, abortions would only be available at hospitals.

“By restricting where, how and when Utahns can access essential health care, this bill turns back the clock, making abortion prohibitively difficult to access and pregnancy and childbirth much more dangerous for Utah families,” Planned Parenthood of Utah Association CEO Karrie Galloway said in a statement.

“It is more proof that some politicians won’t stop until every aspect of reproductive health is micro-managed by people who don’t care about or understand these complex and personal medical issues. How many times must Utah politicians prove to the world they are anti-abortion extremists who want to control our lives, bodies, and futures? And at what cost to our state’s health care system and reputation?”

The day after Utah’s trigger ban went into effect following the U.S. Supreme Court’s June decision in Dobbs v. Jackson, which ruled that abortion is not a constitutional right and moved abortion policymaking to states, Planned Parenthood filed a lawsuit challenging the law. Soon after, a judge issued a temporary restraining order, and later, a preliminary injunction pressing pause on the law’s implementation.

Sen. Dan McCay, R-Riverton, is the author of that law, and is sponsoring Lisonbee’s bill in the Senate.

“This bill does not affect the ongoing court case,” Lisonbee said in a text. “While we anxiously await the court’s ruling, we are proposing these changes because it is the state’s responsibility to protect the most vulnerable, and that includes the unborn. We have worked closely with area doctors and hospitals to ensure that our statute strikes the best balance in protecting innocent life and protecting women who experience rare and dangerous complications during pregnancy.”

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Lisonbee — who sponsored the state’s trigger law — and Rep. Kera Birkeland, R-Morgan, penned cease-and-desist letters to abortion providers last September, threatening future prosecution if they violated the ban while it was on hold. They later sent an email to reporters that said the letters were only “our opinion and the opinion of the legislators who signed it.”

The new bill also clarifies when exceptions to the ban can be made in instances when a pregnancy endangers the mother’s health.

Last year, some women told The Tribune they were wary of getting pregnant because they were unsure whether life-saving efforts, if something were to go wrong, could be unavailable or subject them to prosecution under the new law.

Rep. Ray Ward, R-Bountiful, has introduced a separate bill that also aims to define when such exceptions can be made. That bill was read in the House, but has not yet been sent to be considered by a committee.

Ward, who works outside the Legislature as a physician, was one of a few Republicans to vote against the abortion trigger law in 2020.

This bill will be heard in the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday at 4 p.m. in room 110 of the Senate Building at the Utah Capitol.

Correction: Feb. 15, 3:00 p.m. • This story has been updated to show that the bill does not require doctors to verify crimes of rape or incest if the victim is under 12 years old. A Utah House spokesperson was able to clarify the bill language and intent on Wednesday.