Utah weighs new abortion rules as Legislature wraps up

The Associated Press
March 12, 2020 - 9:32 pm

FILE - In this Jan. 27, 2020, file photo, lawmakers conduct business on the floor of the Utah House of Representatives in Salt Lake City. The Utah Legislature is wrapping up its work for the year, capping off a session that saw major changes to the state's polygamy statute, a revision of a voter-approved redistricting law and a compromise on education funding. The 45-day meeting is ending in the shadow of the new coronavirus, which caused widespread cancellations but didn't cause major disruptions in legislative business. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Additional regulations for abortion could be coming for Utah as the Republican-controlled Legislature counts down the hours until the end of its session Thursday.

A requirement for abortion clinics to cremate or bury fetal remains is already on GOP Gov. Gary Herbert’s desk. Several states are considering similar measures, with supporters saying they allow for more dignity while opponents argue they chip away at abortion rights.

It was among the many bills passed during the 45-day session, which also included relaxing the law against polygamy, adding new warning labels to pornography and revising an anti-gerrymandering measure passed by voters.

Two other abortion proposals were also in the final stages Thursday. One requiring a woman be shown an ultrasound before she could get an abortion was approved by the Utah Senate this week over a walkout protest by all six female lawmakers in the body, Republicans and Democrats.

Another would ban most abortions in Utah if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, the decision legalizing it in the U.S. If the measure were to go into effect, it could mean felony charges for a physician or a woman who ended her own pregnancy.

The proposals come as abortion opponents around the country hope the Supreme Court will reconsider the 1973 ruling with new conservative justices. Several states passed strict bans last year, including Utah. All have been blocked amid litigation.

Supporters of the ultrasound bill say seeing the images and hearing a heartbeat could sway a woman not to have an abortion. Backers of the ban, which has exceptions for things like rape, say it would prepare the state to end elective abortions if the legal landscape changes.

The measure regulating fetal remains, meanwhile, has already passed both chambers. It comes after the Supreme Court upheld a similar Indiana law signed by then-Gov. Mike Pence. The requirements also apply to miscarriages at medical facilities. Supporters say they create space if people need to grieve, but opponents say the measures stigmatize abortion and can make it harder to provide the procedure.

The governor has not yet said whether he’d sign the proposals, though he has expressed some skepticism about the trigger-clause ban. Herbert often describes himself as an opponent of abortion.

Here’s a look at other work by lawmakers this year:

— Revisions to an anti-gerrymandering law that voters passed in 2018 would drop requirements that lawmakers argued could undermine their constitutional powers. The changes were part of a compromise, but some remained concerned they could undermine transparency built into the original law.

— Another compromise on education funding would change a provision of the Utah Constitution that requires income tax revenue be used for education. Lawmakers say the change is needed to bolster a faltering sales tax base, though critics worry it could ultimately undermine education spending in a state where it’s a chronic concern. The change would have to be approved by voters.

— Lawmakers also passed a bill removing the threat of jail time for consenting adult polygamists, saying it would help people come out of shadows and report problems without fear of prosecution. Some worried, though, it could empower abusers.

— Another measure would require pornography producers to put warning labels on obscene content. Supporters said it would help address the widespread availability of porn online, though the adult entertainment industry has said it could violate the First Amendment.

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