Utah Battle Over Partial-Birth Abortion on Hold While Natl Cases Continue

State   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jun 8, 2004   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Utah Battle Over Partial-Birth Abortion on Hold While Natl Cases Continue

by Maria Gallagher
LifeNews.com Staff Writer
June 8, 2004

Salt Lake City, UT (LifeNews.com) — The legal battle over Utah’s partial-birth abortion ban has been put on hold. The state of Utah and the Utah Women’s Clinic have agreed to call off a court fight over the law until three other federal lawsuits dealing with partial-birth abortion are resolved.

Assistant Attorney General Jerrold Jensen and lawyers for the Center for Reproductive Rights signed an agreement Friday which extends a temporary restraining order signed by U.S. District Court Judge Paul Cassell.

The order means that the Utah litigation will be suspended until partial-birth abortion cases in California, Nebraska, and New York have exhausted their appeals.

Sen. Curt Bramble (R), the lead sponsor of the legislation, has said he is also keeping a close watch on the federal lawsuits.

“If the federal law is upheld, you’d expect our bill to be upheld equally,” Bramble told a Salt Lake newspaper.

The Utah Women’s Clinic, an abortion operation, along with the Planned Parenthood Association of Utah, claims that the Utah law has the same “constitutional flaws” as a similar Nebraska ban which was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2000. At that time, the High Court ruled that the ban was unconstitutional because it did not have a health exception for the mother.

However, a number of reputable doctors’ groups, along with former U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, have said that partial-birth abortion is never necessary to safeguard a woman’s health.

At the time the Utah suit was filed, Karrie Galloway, a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood of Utah, told the Associated Press, “We are asking for an injunction until three challenges to a mirror federal ban make it through the courts. We can’t let a law that’s enjoined nationally go into effect here.”

Planned Parenthood also claims the definition of the partial-birth abortion process is so broad that other abortion methods could be banned as well.

But the Governor of Utah, Olene Walker, is defending the law.

“The governor signed the bill because it upholds the sanctity of life,” Walker’s spokeswoman, Amanda Covington, told the Salt Lake Tribune newspaper.

In a partial-birth abortion, a child is partly delivered, then killed. A number of doctors say the gruesome practice, in which a baby’s skull is punctured, borders on infanticide.

According to figures from the Utah Health Department, about 3,300 abortions are performed in the state each year. Most of them occur at Utah Women’s Clinic, which also attempts to attract women from surrounding states through its advertising campaign.

Tensions over abortions in Utah are also running high following an effort to amend the state’s new abortion funding law. Under the law, which became effective May 3, hospitals that receive government funding cannot perform abortions except in cases involving rape, incest, or severe damage to a “major bodily function” of the mother.

As a result, Utah hospitals, led by University Health Sciences Center, have stopped performing abortions on children with handicaps for fear of losing Medicaid and other taxpayer funding.

However, a move is now underway to amend the law to allow hospital abortions for children with “fetal abnormalities.” But Rep. Morgan Philpot, the House sponsor of the law, says the amendment is unnecessary.