Utah Bans Abortions After 18 Weeks, Teeing up Legal Showdown

March 27, 2019 Updated: March 27, 2019

SALT LAKE CITY, UT—Utah Governor Gary Herbert has signed House Bill 136 into law on Monday, March 25, which would ban abortion in Utah after 18 weeks gestation, with some exceptions, setting the stage for a legal showdown.

Though the Republican governor said the measure signed late Monday strikes a balance, opponents said it is unconstitutional and promised to sue, saying the bill would “cost the state millions.” The law is expected to take effect in May.

Utah state capitol
The Utah State Capitol in Salt Lake City, Utah, on March 28, 2018. (Rick Bowmer/AP Photo)

The American Civil Liberties Union of Utah pointed to the U.S. Supreme Court’s longtime holding that states cannot ban abortion before the fetus is viable outside the womb, usually at about 23 weeks.

The ACLU and Planned Parenthood Association of Utah re-iterated that sentiment in a statement to media shortly after Herbert’s signing of HB 136 was announced.

The two organizations vowed a joint suit against the State of Utah, but did not provide an estimate of when the suit would be filed.

The ban adds to a long list of abortion restrictions in Utah, including a 72-hour waiting period and an in-person informed consent session, Planned Parenthood of Utah said.

gary herbert
Utah Gov. Gary Herbert speaks during an interview on the final day of the legislative session at the Utah State Capitol in Salt Lake City, on March 14, 2019. (Francisco Kjholseth/The Salt Lake Tribune via AP)

Herbert had previously signaled his willingness to defend the law, telling KUER earlier this month that his “bias is pro-life.”

The law comes as abortion opponents across the country are motivated by President Donald Trump’s appointment of conservative U.S. Supreme Court justices and seek cases to challenge Roe v. Wade, the court’s 1973 ruling that legalized abortion nationwide.

In Utah, Herbert’s spokesman Paul Edwards said he’s against abortion, and believes lawmakers set an appropriate threshold for respecting a woman’s right to choose while “protecting the unborn.”

The bill allows some exceptions to the 18-week ban in the case that doctors determine a fetus is not viable, that giving birth to the child would put a mother at serious risk, and in the case of rape and incest.

state threshold for abortion
State threshold for abortions. Source: The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundaton, Jan. 2019 (AP photo)

Herbert has said he is not worried about the potential cost of a lawsuit, estimated at about $2 million if the state loses.

The sponsor of the bill, Rep. Cheryl Acton, R-West Jordan, has said she sponsored it to reduce the number of second-trimester abortions that “shock the conscience.”

Cheryl Acton
State Rep. Cheryl Acton, R-West Jordan, is sworn in on the House floor at the Utah State Capitol in Salt Lake City, on Jan. 29, 2019. (Rick Bowmer/AP photo)

Herbert also signed into law this year a measure banning abortion if the only reason is a fetal diagnosis of Down syndrome. The law contains a so-called trigger clause and wouldn’t go into effect unless a similar measure is upheld elsewhere.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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