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U.S. Abortion laws during 2019 in Utah:

Bills to ban abortions of a
fetus with Down Syndrome,
and to ban almost all
abortions after 18 weeks
gestation.

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Number of abortions in Utah:

Abortions have been declining in Utah over the past two and a half decades. In 1995, there were about 6.8 abortions in the state per 1,000 women. During 2016, it had dropped to about 4.0. These levels have been much lower than for the U.S. generally: the abortion rate nationally during 2016 was about almost four times higher: 15 per 1,000 women.

This reduction has been attributed to a variety of factors found in Utah, around the U.S., and in some other countries, including access to contraception, access to emergency contraception, laws restricting abortions, and less sexual activity by teenagers. 1

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Legislative activity in Utah concerning abortions, when motivated by the detection of Down Syndrome in the embryo or fetus:

A bill, HB166, titled the "Down Syndrome Nondiscrimination abortion act" was sponsored by State Rep. Karianne Lisonbee (R) and introduced into the Utah House. It was sponsored in the Senate by State Senator Curtis S. Bramble (R). The bill would prohibit abortions within the state that are motivated solely because a prenatal screening or diagnostic test has been performed and the embryo or fetus is found to have -- or may have -- Down syndrome. 2 Such tests can detect the presence of Down syndrome in a fetus or an embryo at nine weeks gestation or later with a 99% detection rate. 3

If and when the bill becomes law, it would force Utah women who are pregnant with a Down syndrome embryo or fetus and who want to obtain an abortion to travel to an adjacent state for an abortion, or to seek an illegal abortion in Utah.

Rep. Lisonbee said:

"In recent years there has been a shocking increase in abortions performed for no other reason than because a prenatal test identified the potential for a trait a parent didn’t like. For a society that claims to uphold tolerance and inclusiveness, it appears we still have a long way to go." 3

The Pro-Life Utah advocacy group eloquently said:

"A Down Syndrome diagnosis shouldn’t be a death sentence. Selective abortion, for any reason, is the very definition of eugenics. History warns us that this is a very dangerous road to take. ...Utah needs to draw a defining line in the sand and declare loudly to the world, ‘We will not go there!’" 3

During mid 2019-FEB, the House passed the bill by a vote of 54 to 15, along party lines with Republicans in the majority, without any debate.

Republicans in the Senate passed the bill on 2019-FEB-28 by a vote of 20 to 5, also along party lines and without debate.

However, there is an interesting clause in the bill that would prohibit its implementation unless and until some other states have passed similar bills which have been later upheld by a court that has jurisdiction over Utah. 6 The bill's sponsor apparently does not want Utah to be the first state to have to spend a lot of money defending this type of bill in the courts.

Senate President Stuart Adams, (R-Layton), notes that it is a sensitive issue. He said:

"The blessing of life and the blessing of Down syndrome kids and their simple way of life and the way they look at things: that’s a hard question to answer,and hopefully you just see the value of it."

On FEB-29, Governor Gary Herbert was asked about the bill which had reached his desk. He said that it was:

"... somewhat of a message bill. If that’s the reason that you want to have an abortion that’s probably not a good reason."

The American Journal of Medical Genetics published the results of a study on Down syndrome. They found that 99% of individuals with the syndrome said that they were "happy." Also only 4% of their parents expressed regret of having their child.

The abortion rate by women who learn that they are carrying a Down syndrome embryo or fetus varies greatly across the world. Essentially 100% in Iceland, 95% in Spain, 90% in Britain, 65% in Norway, but only 30% in the U.S. elect to terminate their pregnancies. 4

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2019-FEB: Legislative activity in Utah lowering the maximum fetal age for abortions to 18 weeks:

The youngest fetus to date to have survived birth was at 20 weeks gestation. The current law in Utah allows abortion up to 22 weeks. In comparison, studies have shown the fetuses attain consciousness, begin to sense their environment, and are able to feel pain at about 24 weeks gestation. In spite of the evidence, many religious conservatives believe that a fetus can sense pain at 20 weeks.

Rep. Cheryl K. Acton (R) sponsored House Bill 136 in the Utah House. It would ban all abortions after 18 weeks. The bill allows exceptions to the ban for pregnancies:

  • in a woman caused by rape, or rape of a child, or incest, or
  • which pose a threat to the life of the mother, or
  • poses a serious risk to the mother "of substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function, or
  • the presence of "lethal fetal defects, or a “severe brain abnormality.” or in which the fetus has defects that would cause its death immediately after being born. 7

The "severe brain abnormality" clause would not include Down syndrome, spina bifida, cerebral palsy, or any condition "that does not cause an individual to live in a mentally vegetative state."

After an emotional debate, Acton said that if her fellow representatives voted for the bill, they would be voting for:

"... the least among us, the voiceless, the nameless ... and the most oppressed." 5

She also said:

"Utah should be allowed to enact reasonable abortion laws that reflect the will of the people of our state. ... [Utah's culture is one of] "life, not death."

"Now is the time for Utah to change its abortion law and not be threatened in doing so. It's the great moral issue of our time, the issue for which our society will be judged by future generations."

The constitutionality of the bill is doubtful. During 2018, Mississippi pased a similar bill banning abortions after 15 weeks. A federal judge ruled against it.

House Minority Leader Brian King, [D} urged other Representatives to consider voting agaisnt the bill. He said:

"We all also have personal values, moral values that come into play, I understand all that. "

But he urged his fellow legislators to consider the cost of defending in court:

"... what our legislative counsel believes is a clearly unconstitutional bill."

Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Millcreek, told of how 25 years ago she suffered complications from a pregnancy and she was told it was likely her unborn fetus was going to have "very, very serious medical issues." She described the "heartbreaking situation" with her family, her religious leader, and her doctor. She decided to continue the pregnancy. Her son lived, Later. as an adult, he graduated from the University of Utah with a 4.0 GPA! She said:

"I made that decision, but I made that decision and no government told me what to do. And that's why I strongly encourage you to let this decision stay with the parents, their religious authority, their doctor and not have government meddling in their business."

On 2019-FEB-26, the House passed the bill with the expected overwhelming vote: 57 to 15. 5

The Planned Parenthood Association of Utah has pledged to challenge the 18-week ban in court if it is passed and signed into law. 6

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2019-MAR: HB-136 becomes law:

The bill was passed by the Utah Senate by a vote of 23 to 6.

On 2019-MAR-25, Utah governor Gary Herbert signed the bill into law.

On the same day, yhe American Civil Liberties Union of Utah and Planned Parenthood announced that they will challenge the law in court. They would have a significant chance of winning such a lawsit, because HB-136 appears to violate the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Roe v, Wade. 7

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Benjamin Wood, "Legislators send ban on Down syndrome-based abortions to the governor," Salt Lake Tribune, 2019-MAR-05, at: https://www.sltrib.com
  2. "DOWN SYNDROME NONDISCRIMINATION ABORTION ACT," Utah State Legislature, 2019 General Session, at: https://le.utah.gov/
  3. "Learn important health information about your baby, earlier," Life Labs Genetics, at: https://www.lifelabsgenetics.com/
  4. Calvin Freiburge, "Utah legislature bans aborting babies with Down syndrome; governor likely to sign," Life Site News, 2019-MAR-01, at: https://www.lifesitenews.com/
  5. Katie McKellar, "Utah House passes bill to ban abortions after 18 weeks," Deseret News, 2019-FEB-26, at: https://www.deseretnews.com/
  6. Nicole Nixon, "Herbert Signals Support For Down Syndrome Abortion Bill Now Heading To His Desk," KUER Public Radio, 2019-FEB-28, at: https://www.kuer.org/
  7. Calvin Freiburger, "Utah governor signs bill banning abortion at 18 weeks," Life Site News, 2019-MAR-27, at: https://www.lifesitenews.com/

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Copyright © 2019 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2019-MAR-28
Author: B.A. Robinson
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