A bill that would ban abortions in Utah at all stages of gestation, except in certain rare circumstances, made it through a Utah State Senate committee on Wednesday and now goes to the full Senate for consideration.
The Senate Health and Human Services Committee voted 4-2 on Wednesday to advance Senate Bill 174, a bill sponsored by Sen. Dan McCay, R-Riverton, that would criminalize “the intentional killing or attempted killing of a live unborn child through a medical procedure carried out by a physician or through a substance used under the direction of a physician,” according to a definition of abortion provided in the bill’s text.
S.B. 174 would make it a second-degree felony for a physician in Utah to perform an abortion at any stage of pregnancy, except in cases of rape, incest or if the life of the mother was threatened.
The bill contains a contingency clause, meaning it would not go into effect unless the U.S. Supreme Court overturned its 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that guarantees women the right to an abortion under the U.S. Constitution.
“When Roe v. Wade is overturned, Utah needs to be ready with this bill to go into effect,” said Tawnee McCay, a Riverton city councilwoman and wife of the bill’s sponsor who helped Riverton pass a resolution last year declaring the city a “sanctuary city for the unborn.”
Tawnee McCay praised Lehi, which declared itself a sanctuary city for the unborn on Tuesday, and other municipalities for taking strong anti-abortion stances.
“Human life is precious and it should be treasured,” she said.
Sen. Dan McCay said the current makeup of the Supreme Court makes him confident that the Roe v. Wade decision could be overturned.
“There are plenty of legal scholars who believe the time is right for this decision to be reviewed,” said McCay.
Utah Eagle Forum President Gayle Ruzicka, who fought to get a similar bill passed in Utah in the 1990s that the Supreme Court ultimately rejected, said she thought now would be the right time to try again.
“We’re moving in that direction, and we know before long … the courts will be overturning Roe v. Wade,” Ruzicka said. “And now is the time to pass this bill.”
A handful of people, both in favor and opposition to the bill, spoke during Wednesday’s committee meeting.
Timothy Schmall, of Provo, acknowledged that abortion is a sensitive issue but said Utah should do everything to prevent the procedure from taking place.
“The womb should be the safest place in the entire universe for an unborn child,” Schmall said.
Conservative activist and chair of Abortion-Free Utah Merrilee Boyack, who urged the Lehi City Council and mayor to declare the city a sanctuary for the unborn, said Utahns shouldn’t be afraid to challenge the law of the land if they find it immoral.
She referenced slavery and women not having the right to vote as examples of laws that were “changed by courageous people.”
“Every one of those terrible laws was changed through the actions of courageous people who stood up and spoke up and demanded change,” said Boyack. “This bill does just that.”
Utah-based obstetrician and gynecologist Sarah Zarek said she grew up “proudly pro-life” but has since taken a more nuanced stance on abortion.
“And it is only by having had the privilege of taking care of thousands of women over the past 14 years that I came to understand the inherent complexity involved in abortion care and that my views on abortion care have evolved,” Zarek said.
Zarek added that “it is frequently the desire to care for the children they already have or to avoid the certainty of terrible suffering” that leads women to seek an abortion.
Marina Lowe, legislative and policy counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah, said the bill is another example of the Legislature attempting to place restrictions on a women’s right to an abortion.
“It’s hard to find a year when the Utah Legislature hasn’t added to the long list of restrictions and unnecessary burdens that must be overcome before a woman can seek an abortion in this state.”
Lowe referenced a recent statewide survey conducted on behalf of the ACLU of Utah, Alliance for a Better Utah and the Planned Parenthood Association of Utah in which 80% of respondents said they did not think Utah needs additional restrictions on abortion.
“This ban is not the desire for the majority of Utahns who may not have time to lobby their moderate views,” said Jessica Sanders, a researcher with Family Planning Elevated.