Abortion ‘about to get harder’ in Utah as GOP politicians move closer to banning abortion clinics

Rep. Karianne Lisonbee’s HB467 passed out of the Utah House of Representatives on party line Friday.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Rep. Karianne Lisonbee, answers questions about Utah's trigger law, SB174, during a news conference at the State Capitol, after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, on Friday, June 24, 2022. Her bill HB467, which would ban abortion clinics in Utah, passed out of the Utah House of Representatives on Friday.

Utah is one step closer to banning abortion clinics after the state House of Representatives passed a bill from Rep. Karianne Lisonbee, R-Clearfield, along party lines Friday afternoon.

While Lisonbee has said House Bill 467, dubbed Abortion Changes, would strike a balance between “protecting innocent life and protecting women,” critics argue it would make abortions more expensive for women who need them.

If enacted, abortion clinics in Utah would no longer be able to obtain a license starting in May, and no clinics would be allowed to operate in the state beginning in 2024. It would also move most abortions to hospitals and make violating Utah’s abortion laws unprofessional conduct for health care providers.

Previously, all abortions done under an exemption for a fetal abnormality that is “incompatible with life,” would have to be performed after labor instead of in utero under the bill. But under a substitute approved Wednesday, that requirement was removed and doctors would instead have to explain perinatal hospice and palliative care options available as alternatives to abortion.

A blocked near-total abortion ban making its way through Utah’s courts allows an exception for victims of rape or incest, but Lisonbee’s bill would cut those abortions off at 18 weeks.

Another bill that would impose the same restriction, Rep. Kera Birkeland’s, R-Morgan, Victim Services Amendments, also passed out of the House Friday. It would require doctors to document how they’re verifying that abortion patients are rape or incest victims, while also adding some services for victims and training for law enforcement.

In a news conference Thursday, Gov. Spencer Cox said he supports Lisonbee’s bill.

“I think that gives plenty of time for a decision to be made, and people will have an opportunity to get an abortion,” Cox said, endorsing the 18-week restriction for victims.

As thousands flock to Salt Lake City for the NBA’s All-Star weekend, one organization is handing out condoms with a QR code that takes recipients to a web page instructing them how to tell lawmakers to vote “no” on the bill. The condoms, distributed by Alliance for a Better Utah, read, “Control your J*ZZ. Abortion in Utah is about to get harder.”

In its news release announcing the campaign, the progressive nonprofit referenced a Lisonbee quote from a news conference celebrating the overturning of Roe v. Wade last year, in which she said she trusted Utah women to “control (their) intake of semen.”

She later clarified to The Tribune that the remark did not accurately reflect what she intended to say, adding, “Women do not have a choice when they are raped and have protections under Utah’s trigger law.”

During floor time on Friday, Rep. Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, sparred with Lisonbee over how her bill would impact the cost of abortions. Responding to criticism, Lisonbee says that women would still be able to obtain abortions in clinics — just not abortion clinics.

“Just because the bill’s sponsor has a feeling about what the effect of the bill is, doesn’t mean it’s accurate,” King said. “I believe that if this bill passes, we will be pushing women to more expensive levels of care to obtain abortions.”

Another Democratic lawmaker from Salt Lake City, House Minority Leader Angela Romero, voiced concerns about how the bill, which was made public on Tuesday, would impact access to affordable health care altogether. Romero said at a time when she didn’t have health insurance, she would go to Planned Parenthood clinics to receive care.

“What’s going to happen to clinics like that, that are very important to our working poor families, people that don’t have health insurance, or have nowhere to go?” Romero asked.

[Get the latest Utah political news in the new Daily Buzz email newsletter. Sign up here.]

Lisonbee said clinics like Planned Parenthood could apply to the Department of Health and Human Services to be licensed as a different kind of clinic, and then be certified to provide abortions under the abortion ban’s exemptions.

“I don’t believe that any clinics that are providing services to women will close merely because that revenue (from abortion) is no longer available,” said Rep. Brady Brammer, R-Pleasant Grove, whose bill that would give the state an additional avenue to remove an injunction on the abortion ban passed earlier this session.

“In Utah, we have stated with our trigger law that life begins at implantation, and that only the exceptions will be allowed to receive an abortion,” Lisonbee said moments before House Republicans voted to send the bill to the Senate for approval.

“This bill, which purports to be ‘pro-life,’ in fact, is not. These health centers are critical providers of health care for Utahns,” House Democrats wrote in a statement following the vote, adding, “This bill operates with the assumption that abortion care will be banned in the state of Utah. That decision is currently in the hands of the courts.”