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Utah passes new abortion rules, could mean felony charges for doctors and women

Also headed for GOP Gov. Gary Herbert’s desk is a requirement for abortion clinics to cremate or bury fetal remains.
Image: Gary Herbert
Utah Gov. Gary Herbert delivers his 11th and final State of the State address in the Utah House Chambers, at the Utah Sate Capitol, on Jan. 29, 2020. (Rick Egan/, Pool)Rick Egan / The Salt Lake Tribune via AP pool

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah lawmakers passed new regulations on abortion this year, including a measure approved by the Republican-controlled Legislature Thursday that would ban most abortions if Roe v. Wade is overturned.

It comes as abortion opponents around the country hope the Supreme Court will reconsider the landmark ruling with new conservative justices. If the Utah measure goes into effect, it could mean felony charges for a physician or a woman who ended her own pregnancy.

Also headed for GOP Gov. Gary Herbert’s desk is a requirement for abortion clinics to cremate or bury fetal remains. Several states are considering similar measures. Supporters say they allow for more dignity, but opponents argue they chip away at abortion rights.

A third proposal 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, both Republicans and Democrats.

That action should be taken seriously, said Herbert, who generally opposes abortion.

“I think it was a loud message and one I think we, as men, ought to take hard look at. Are we listening? Are we getting all the information we need to?” he said. He didn't say whether he would sign or veto any of the bills.

Utah barred abortion after 18 weeks last year, becoming one of several states to adopt strict bans. Like the other measures it has been blocked amid litigation. Many conservatives hope one of those court cases could lead to the overturning of the 1973 case legalizing abortion.

If that happens, the new measure says Utah would ban all abortions except in cases like rape and serious threat to the health of the mother. Supporters say it would prepare the state to end elective abortions if the legal landscape changes.

“This bill is meant to discourage the taking of a human life,” said Republican Rep. Karianne Lisonbee.

Democratic Rep. Suzanne Harrison argued that it would only make it more difficult to get a safe abortion. “This extreme bill will hurt women,” she said. “To be clear, women will die.”

The measure regulating fetal remains, meanwhile, comes after the Supreme Court upheld a similar Indiana law signed by then-Gov. Mike Pence last year. 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.