House committee OKs 18-week abortion ban opposed by some as ‘arbitrary’, ‘paternalistic’ and likely unconstitutional

This article originally appeared in the Salt Lake Tribune. Read it in its entirety here.

A proposed 18-week cap on legal, elective abortions earned a muted victory in committee Wednesday, with two Republicans joining three Democrats in a 7-5 vote to send the bill to the full Utah House for debate.

Freshman Rep. Steve Waldrip, R-Eden, said he philosophically objects to message bills that invite litigation, adding that HB136 would not survive a legal challenge unless, and until, the U.S. Supreme Court overturns its precedents on abortion rights. And it’s troubling, Waldrip said, for lawmakers to suggest they’re working to preserve the health and safety of Utah women in spite of themselves.

“There’s an arbitrary nature and a paternalistic nature to this that just doesn’t quite sit with me quite yet,” Waldrip said.

Wednesday’s vote of the House Judiciary Committee followed roughly 90 minutes of debate before a standing-room only crowd.

Rep. Cheryl Acton, R-West Jordan, originally intended to sponsor a 15-week ban. But she substituted her bill to bolster its odds of surviving a likely legal challenge. “There is no connection, really, between viability and 18 weeks,” Acton said. “I guess I’m challenging the viability concept.”

Supporters of the bill argued that medical science has changed in the more than four decades since the Supreme Court established the pre-viability standard in the landmark case Roe v. Wade.

“We now have a window into the womb; back then we didn’t,” said Gayle Ruzicka, president of the Utah Eagle Forum. “Now things have really changed and we can see these little babies.”

And Mary Taylor, president of Pro-Life Utah, criticized the procedure of later-term abortions, which can include the induced vaginal birth of an unviable fetus or the dismemberment of a fetus in utero.

“This is a horrendous and barbaric procedure,” Taylor said. “Dismembering and crushing a live baby has no place in a civilized society.”

But Cara Heuser, a physician with Intermountain Healthcare, said the language of Acton’s bill includes regulations that are poorly defined or conflict with medical practices.

She said the decision of whether or not to have an abortion can be “gut-wrenching” for families, and said the bill could add confusion and misunderstanding to state law while impeding a patient’s autonomy.

“These families deserve privacy, autonomy and medical care delivered with care and compassion,” Heuser said.

This article originally appeared in the Salt Lake Tribune. Read it in its entirety here.

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