Utah House Committee Passes Bill Banning Abortions, Protecting Unborn Babies Under Law

State   |   Micaiah Bilger   |   Mar 9, 2020   |   3:04PM   |   Salt Lake City, UT

A Utah bill that would ban almost all abortions is moving closer to final passage in the state legislature.

On Monday, the state House Health and Human Services Committee approved the bill in a 10-3 vote, Deseret News reports. The bill passed the state Senate earlier this month.

Utah Senate Bill 174, sponsored by state Sen. Dan McCay, R-Riverton, would prohibit abortions with limited exceptions for rape, incest, risks to the mother’s life and fatal fetal deformities. It also attempts to avoid a costly legal challenge by taking effect only after the courts allow states to restrict abortions again. Currently, states are prohibited from protecting unborn babies from abortion prior to viability under Roe v. Wade.

“The bill is an important bill for a lot of reasons,” McCay told the committee Monday. It would tell the U.S. Supreme Court that there are “states that are willing to stand at the side of the unborn when it is time,” he continued, according to the report.

Testifying in favor of the bill, Mary Taylor, of Pro-Life Utah, said she aborted an unborn baby forty years ago, not realizing the consequences it would have. She said she struggled with depression and suicidal thoughts for years because of her choice to abort her child.

“And as president of Pro-Life Utah, we deal with women every day. We pick up the broken pieces of women who have had access to abortion,” Taylor told lawmakers.

The abortion advocacy group Alliance for a Better Utah opposes the bill. A spokesperson for the group said the bill could punish both doctors and women for abortions by making it a second-degree felony to perform an abortion, according to the local news.

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McCay said his bill would allow felony charges for anyone who performs an abortion, including the mother.

“I think it’s the government’s role to speak up for those who can’t speak for themselves. That is one of our primary duties, and the unborn cannot speak and as a result it is our obligation to protect them,” McCay told reporters earlier this month. “It’s regrettable that the government has to protect the unborn from a parent.”

News outlets predicted the Utah House will approve the bill, but it is not clear if Gov. Gary Herbert will sign it.

According to the Tribune, Herbert, a Republican, expressed skepticism about the bill during his monthly press conference in February.

“We could wait until Roe v. Wade is, in fact, overturned, if, in fact, it ever is,” he said. “It may be kind of a feel-good message bill. If I sign it, nothing happens. If I don’t sign it, nothing happens. So I’m a little concerned about it.”

The U.S. Supreme Court took away the states’ ability to protect unborn babies from abortion, and instead allowed abortion on demand through all nine months of pregnancy. Roe made the United States one of only seven countries in the world that allows elective abortions after 20 weeks.

There is more hope that the new conservative-majority U.S. Supreme Court may consider overturning Roe, but it is difficult to say if it would for certain. Last week, the high court heard a Louisiana abortion case that will show where the justices stand on the matter. A ruling is expected in June.

Abortions will not immediately become illegal when the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade. Instead, the power to ban abortions or keep them legal will return to the states.

Some states already have legislation in place to ban abortions when that happens. Ohio is considering a similar bill this spring. In 2019, Tennessee, Arkansas, Kentucky and Missouri also passed laws to ban abortions once Roe v. Wade is overturned.

Some states have tried to ban abortions right away or heavily restrict them through heartbeat laws and personhood legislation, but these laws consistently get struck down in court. When states lose, their taxpayers often are forced to reimburse pro-abortion groups’ legal fees.