Utah lawmakers push for stricter abortion laws

SALT LAKE CITY — Dr. William Adams has spent a career making sure women have a right to choose.

Offering options, he says, is the only way to assure the procedures are safe and available and patients don’t resort to dangerous alternatives.

“If women don’t have a place to go for safe abortions,” Adams said, “they would have to resort to other means” – unregulated means that could resort in death or serious injury for the patient.

The doctor at Mountain View Women’s Clinic in Salt Lake City is worried that new more restrictive bills passed this year by Utah’s Legislature and others around the country aim to break new ground in abortion restrictions – to limit safe and affordable options.

If Gov. Gary Herbert signs off on a recently passed insurance abortion bill, Utah would become one of just six states to restrict public and private insurance coverage of abortions since President Barack Obama signed into law last year’s health care reform law, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

Other Utah bills would increase abortion clinic inspections and bar hospitals from firing doctors who refuse to perform abortions, even in cases of rape or incest.

Anti-abortion legislators like Republican state Rep. Carl Wimmer, of Herriman, is no stranger to abortion bills that aim to hamper access and make a statement. He introduces restrictive abortion bills every session, and aims to eventually mount a serious challenge to Roe vs. Wade.

“I run abortion bills every year. There’s not an industry in the nation that exploits women more than the abortion industry,” Wimmer said. “My agenda is also to make it very difficult for abortion clinics, the ones that do elective abortions, to operate in Utah and I don’t hide that fact.”

The governor’s office declined to comment on whether he’ll sign any of these bills into law.

Utah has four clinics that offer elective abortions, all in Salt Lake City. Of those, only the Utah Women’s Clinic is licensed by the Department of Health to provide second-trimester abortions. And hospitals rarely offer abortions except when medically necessary.

While anti-abortion legislation is nothing new for a conservative state like Utah, where many lawmakers are Mormon, other states around the country are getting more aggressive, emboldened by a Republican majority in Washington and the influential Tea Party movement.

Lawmakers have introduced 19 anti-abortion bills in Florida, according to Planned Parenthood Federation of America, bills that aim to ban abortion as early as six weeks in Ohio, and a move to require a 72-hour waiting period before a woman can have an abortion in South Dakota.

“Historically, there’s always been significant activity in state legislatures around abortion access, but with the legislative shift after the November elections, we have seen an unprecedented level of attacks on access to abortions,” said Rachel Sussman of Planned Parenthood. “There is an aggressiveness due to the political shift that the anti-abortion community is certainly taking advantage of.”

In Nebraska, a law enacted that bans abortions after 20 weeks, regardless of the circumstance, has proved problematic and heart-wrenching for women with nonviable pregnancies. Dannielle Deaver was about 22 weeks into her pregnancy in December when doctors said her child would face certain death soon after birth due to complications. She still had to carry the fetus for the full term.

Experts say given the favorable political climate, lawmakers have also begun to push the boundaries of anti-abortion legislation by introducing bills that add more restrictions to existing law, an easier path toward approval.

“You want the bill to look like something people have done before,” said Thad Hall, a political science professor at the University of Utah and author of a recent book on abortion politics.

“So what you’re doing is incrementally moving things along, but the idea is, it’s very hard for opponents to complain because it’s similar to what’s already in place,” he said.

Doctors like Adams at the Salt Lake City women’s clinic say the new anti-abortion laws enacted more and more each year chip away at women’s rights and unfairly target abortion doctors.

“Abortions are one of the safest medical procedures provided,” he said. “But this new legislation will just make it harder for us to operate.”

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