A bill that would require women seeking abortions to receive an ultrasound prior to the procedure is one step closer to becoming law after it advanced through the Utah State Senate on Tuesday evening.
House Bill 364, sponsored by Rep. Steve Christiansen, R-West Jordan, would mandate that physicians performing abortions display “fetal images of each unborn child” and make “each unborn child’s heartbeat audible for the pregnant woman,” according to the text of the bill.
Utah’s six women senators all stepped off the Senate floor in protest before a vote was taken.
The bill’s Senate sponsor, Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, called it an “informed consent bill” that would help women make an informed decision before receiving an abortion.
“If you’re going to take a life of a child, if you’re going to terminate that life through an abortion, it seems appropriate that you be given the best information about the development, the stage of development (and) the heartbeat,” Bramble said. “We’re talking about a human being. And having the information relative to that child’s physical being is important as that decision to terminate that child’s life is being made.”
State lawmakers made passionate comments in opposition to the bill as the Senate considered it on Tuesday.
Sen. Derek Kitchen, D-Salt Lake City, criticized the Legislature for having “politicized abortion” to the point that “it’s almost like this body up here tries to see who can become more pro-life than one another.”
“I don’t understand how we can get behind this, especially the men up here that are supporting something like this,” Kitchen said. “It’s more than saddening, it’s troubling.”
Sen. Kathleen Riebe, D-Cottonwood Heights, said mandating that a woman receive an ultrasound “does not comply with best medical practice.”
“Because if I’m seeking the best practices then I request what I want, I’m not forced into things that I don’t want,” said Riebe.
Bramble defended the bill by saying that women could look away from the ultrasound images or request that the volume of the heartbeat be turned down.
“It does require an ultrasound, that’s true,” he said. “But she doesn’t have to view it, she doesn’t have to listen to it.”
Multiple Republican senators who describe themselves as “pro-life” expressed concerns with the bill.
Republican Spanish Fork Sen. Deidre Henderson proposed an amendment to the bill to clarify that only an abdominal ultrasound would be required, as opposed to a transabdominal or transvaginal ultrasound.
“They’re incredibly invasive (and) they are incredibly embarrassing,” Henderson said about transvaginal ultrasounds. “They are certainly not anything that the government should ever be — in any way, shape or form — mandating.”
Henderson added that she would have issues with the bill even if it were amended.
“I am very pro-life,” she said. “I always vote for pro-life legislation. I do get concerned when we maybe go a little bit too far. And I think that this bill, without the amendment, for sure goes too far, and with this amendment goes a little less too far.”
Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, and Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, who both voted against the bill, said they feared it would cost the state millions of dollars in legal fees if it were appealed to the United States Supreme Court.
“Isn’t this just a setup for another Supreme Court challenge that’s going to cost the state $2 million?” Weiler asked Bramble.
“This ultimately may go to the Supreme Court,” Bramble responded, “as will many pro-life bills. And if so, that’s appropriate. I personally believe that Roe v. Wade is one of the worst decisions handed down by the court.”
Sen. Daniel Thatcher, R-West Valley City, said he was “torn on this” because “the idea of ending a human life is absolutely abhorrent to me.”
“But now I have to compare and weigh using the power and the force of the government to order a woman to undergo a procedure that she does not want,” Thatcher said. “And I cannot in good conscience exercise the power of the government in that way.”
“Love my sisters in the Senate,” Sen. Luz Escamilla, D-Salt Lake City, tweeted alongside pictures of the six Democratic and Republican women hugging and huddling in a circle. “A spontaneous decision not planned of sisterhood against the invasive nature of HB 364.”
The Senate passed the bill on a 16-7 vote on Tuesday. The House passed an earlier version of the bill 47-20 last Thursday.