SALT LAKE CITY — Utah lawmakers may be moving into the heated abortion debate, as a proposed bill would require a doctor or clinician to perform an ultrasound before performing an abortion, or face a hefty fine.
Another bill filed late Friday would ban abortions outright, with a few exceptions.
Neither has been scheduled for a committee hearing.
HB364 would require the medical provider to explain to the woman seeking an abortion what the images produced in the ultrasound are and make the fetal heartbeat audible, if possible. The woman would be able to choose not to look at the images or listen to the heartbeat, according to the bill, as well as ask that the sound of the heartbeat be reduced or turned off.
Bill sponsor Rep. Steve Christiansen, R-West Jordan, said he modeled his bill after one passed in 2017 in Kentucky, and that it’s intended to aid in the issue of informed consent by offering women the information they need to make the best decisions for themselves.
While Utah law already requires women to be given an information module telling them about the physical risks of an abortion, Christiansen said the new bill would provide them some of the “most relevant” information about “what’s going on inside” them.
“There’s nothing more relevant than seeing the baby you’re aborting,” Christiansen said.
Some pro-choice advocates consider the bill a punishment to women who choose to abort.
“Rep. Christiansen is proposing that Utah doctors force a woman to look away from an ultrasound if she doesn’t want to see it and request that audio be turned down or off if she doesn’t want to hear it. This is a cruel attempt to take away a woman’s agency at an incredibly sensitive time,” Lauren Simpson, policy director for Alliance for a Better Utah, said in a statement.
Simpson says the proposal is unnecessary.
“Under Utah law, a woman already has the option to watch an ultrasound and listen to that cardiac rhythm if she chooses,” she said. “Forcing that experience on someone while permitting her to ‘avert her eyes’ or request for the volume to be lowered or turned off is not a legitimate exception to this mandate. The sole purpose of this bill is to punish women for making the deeply complicated and personal decision to have an abortion.”
Another new bill would prohibit abortion except in cases of rape or incest; to prevent the death or “substantial impairment” of the woman if she gives birth; or if the fetus has a lethal birth defect or severe brain abnormality that would cause it to be in a vegetative state.
SB174 would make it a second-degree felony to perform an abortion that doesn’t meet one of those criteria.
Bill sponsor Sen. Dan McCay, R-Riverton, said recently the bill would respect the sanctity of life and undo an “evil” that causes 3,000 lost lives a year in Utah due to abortion.
“Every child brings joy, and we know that every soul is divine in the eyes of God,” McCay said at the March for Life rally in late January.
The bill, if passed, would only take effect if a court of binding authority, such as the U.S. Supreme Court, has held that a state may prohibit the abortion of an unborn child at any time during the gestational period, other than in the cases of the exemptions.
Better Utah also takes issue with SB174, calling it a move to take away people’s agency.
“We are tired of politicians who think they know best trying to force their extreme political ideology onto a deeply personal and sensitive issue. Life is complicated. Reproduction is complicated. Abortion is complicated. And politicians who try and make any of these things black-and-white are showing they either don’t understand or don’t care about the complex, nuanced experiences of people’s lives,” Simpson said in a statement.
“All of us share the same goal of strengthening families and respecting people’s individual agency on their path to a full, happy life. Like the majority of Utahns, we support a woman’s agency to make this deeply personal decision for herself in consultation with her doctors, her family, and her faith,” she said.