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Legislative Panel Advances Abortion Ban

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The Utah House Health and Human Services Committee voted in support of a bill that bans abortion, should the landmark court decision legalizing abortion be overturned. 

Senate Bill 174 prohibits abortion except in cases of rape, incest, if the life of the pregnant person is threatened or if the fetus isn’t viable. The law penalizes whoever performs the abortion – most likely a physician, but possibly a pregnant person who performed the abortion on themselves – with a second-degree felony. The law would be triggered if Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court abortion ruling, is overturned.

The bill’s sponsor, Riverton Republican Sen. Dan McCay, says he supports a person’s right to privacy in making decisions about their own health but disagrees with court rulings in determining when a fetus becomes a person.

“That right of privacy does exist, and it should exist for the mother, for her care and her privacy," McCay said. "It ends when she’s making a decision for the body of another.”

Bountiful Rep. Ray Ward, a family physician, was the only Republican to vote against the bill. Ward says many countries that ban abortion have elevated maternal death rates.

In South Africa, when they changed their policy to allow for legal abortion, their rate of maternal death from unsafe abortion dropped by 90%," Ward said. "So, the policy, in fact, was shown that it was cause for the high rate of maternal death, when it was unsafe situations for women getting an abortion."

Members of the public gave emotional testimony for and against the bill. Summit County Democratic Party Chair Meredith Reed spoke against SB 174, saying she wanted to eliminate the stigma around abortion.

“I am grateful that I was able to have an abortion when I needed one," Reed said. "My life is better because I was able to make the best and most compassionate decision for myself and for my family.”

Merrilee Boyack of Abortion Free Utah urged lawmakers to vote for SB 174. Boyack says just because Roe V. Wade is the law of the land doesn’t mean it shouldn’t change.

"They used the same refrain with slavery; it was the law of the land," Boyack said. "They used the same refrain with women and their rights to vote or own property; it was the law of the land. They used the same refrain with segregation; it was the law of the land. Every one of those terrible laws was changed through the actions of courageous people, who stood up and spoke up and demanded change.”

After a motion by Ward to study the bill further during the interim session failed, SB 174 passed out of the House Health and Human Services Committee on a 10-to-three vote. It now goes to the full House for consideration.

Wasatch Back Reps. Logan Wilde, a Republican from Croydon, and Heber Republican Tim Quinn haven’t responded to KPCW’s request for comment, but District 28 Democratic Rep. Brian King says he will vote against the bill.

Emily Means hadn’t intended to be a journalist, but after two years of studying chemistry at the University of Utah, she found her fit in the school’s communication program. Diving headfirst into student media opportunities, Means worked as a host, producer and programming director for K-UTE Radio as well as a news writer and copy editor at The Daily Utah Chronicle.
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