Abortion clinic ban signed by Utah Gov. Cox; abortion still legal up to 18 weeks

Planned Parenthood said its “exploring all options to preserve access to abortion in Utah” before the new law goes into effect in early May.

Abortion clinics will be banned in Utah starting next year after Gov. Spencer Cox signed a bill Wednesday. The law will also impose other restrictions on abortion as the state’s trigger ban is held up in court.

Rep. Karianne Lisonbee’s, R-Clearfield, HB467, was among the more controversial bills passed this legislative session. It passed out of both the Utah House and the Senate along party lines.

The CEO of Planned Parenthood Association of Utah, Karrie Galloway, said in a statement that “Planned Parenthood Association of Utah (PPAU) is exploring all options to preserve access to abortion in Utah ahead of HB 467′s effective date on May 3.”

Her organization is the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit challenging Utah’s abortion trigger law. It operates one of two clinics that offer surgical abortion, and three of four that prescribe abortion medication in Utah.

Cox’s approval of the bill was expected. He called the bill a “cleanup” of the trigger ban at a February news conference, saying he supports it, and told reporters on the last day of the legislative session he would sign it. Some of that cleanup included clarifying the definition of abortion and when a doctor can legally perform an abortion under the exceptions.

“There was a feeling that many of the providers were just going to say, ‘Hey, we because there’s no clarity, we’re not gonna be able to provide any of those abortions, even where they’re legal under that (trigger) bill,’ and they wanted that clarity, they were at the table (and) feel better about it,” Cox told The Salt Lake Tribune in an end-of-the-session interview.

Utah will stop renewing and issuing licenses for abortion clinics starting May 2, and will completely outlaw them in January 2024.

The bill makes numerous other changes to the blocked abortion law, which includes exceptions for victims of rape and incest, when the mother’s life is in danger or when the fetus has a fatal abnormality. And with more than 1,000 lines, abortion rights advocates have said the full impact of the bill is unclear.

When asked by The Tribune earlier this month if there is anything he doesn’t like about the lengthy bill, he said, “It doesn’t matter. I’ll be signing the bill.”

The legislation, Abortion Changes, also includes making violations of Utah’s abortion laws unprofessional conduct for health care providers; requiring doctors to explain perinatal hospice and palliative care options as alternatives to abortion for women considering the fetal abnormality exception; and cutting off abortion for victims of sexual assault and incest at 18 weeks.

Abortion is currently legal in Utah up to 18 weeks of pregnancy.

The bill will move all abortions to facilities that meet the state’s definition of a “hospital” under its abortion laws. While that definition includes general hospitals, it also includes clinics “certified by the department as providing equipment and personnel sufficient in quantity and quality to provide the same degree of safety as ... a general hospital licensed by the department.”

Critics have said moving abortions to such facilities will likely raise the cost of accessing an abortion in Utah, even in instances when an abortion is medically necessary.

Some health care providers testified during committee hearings that many insurance plans don’t cover abortions — no matter the reason — and that out-of-pocket costs in a hospital can reach as much as $25,000, while they’re a fraction of that in abortion clinics.

Once the bill goes into full effect, the closest abortion clinics will likely be six hours away in Las Vegas and Glenwood Springs, Colorado. A California-based Planned Parenthood organization has proposed building a clinic two hours away from Salt Lake City in West Wendover, but that proposal is in limbo after the city council rejected it, and the mayor vetoed that vote.

In a news conference during the last week of the legislative session, representatives from both Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union, which is also a party in the lawsuit challenging the trigger ban, said this legislation has the potential to “disrupt” the ongoing litigation.

Suing to enjoin Lisonbee’s bill — or other bills passed this session that would impact abortion access — is also on the table, they said.

“It’s no secret that the ACLU of Utah and others in the room today are always looking out for possible constitutional violations that are embedded in the laws that come out of this body,” said Brittney Nystrom, the executive director of the ACLU of Utah said at the news conference. “So we will be taking a close look at laws that restrict rights and freedoms of individuals and in making decisions on whether to continue those challenges in court.”