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Lawsuit challenges Utah ban on abortions after 18 weeks

Planned Parenthood representatives in Utah announce a lawsuit April 10th, 2019. (Credit: Meghan Thackrey, KSL TV)

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Abortion rights groups filed a lawsuit Wednesday challenging the constitutionality of a new Utah law banning most abortions after 18 weeks of gestation, following through on a vow made when lawmakers considered the measure during this year’s legislative session.

The law violates the U.S. Supreme Court’s longtime stance that states cannot ban abortion before the fetus is viable outside the womb, usually at about 23 weeks, the Planned Parenthood Association of Utah argued. The American Civil Liberties Union of Utah is assisting with the lawsuit filed in federal court.

The groups asked a judge to delay the implementation of the law, which is set to take effect on May 14.

Abortion rights supporters gathered inside the state Capitol holding pink signs that said, “Trust women” and “Abortion is health care” as officials discussed the lawsuit.

“Every person deserves the right to control their body, life and future,” said Karrie Galloway, CEO of Planned Parenthood of Utah. “That includes the right to decide when to become a parent. This 18-week ban puts medical decisions in the hands of politicians rather than the woman and her doctor.”

Dana Reinke, one of the people supporting the lawsuit, said the laws are trying to disempower women.

“Women should be trusted to make their own choices,” said Reinke, a married mother of two daughters from Salt Lake City. “We are not killers.”

Krista Noyes was the lone anti-abortion person at the event. She watched from afar holding a sign that had a picture of a fetus and the words, “Let me live.” Noyes said she wanted to represent Utah residents who oppose abortions and back the ban. She said there other options such as adoption for women who don’t want a baby.

“Just because you choose to have sex and you’re not ready to deal with the consequences, that doesn’t give you a right to take someone else’s life.” said Noyes, 25, of Orem, Utah.

The measure allows some exceptions — including cases of rape, fatal fetal deformity or serious detriment to the mother’s health.

Abortions done after 18 weeks account for about 3% of the procedures done at Planned Parenthood of Utah, Galloway said.

The legal battle in Utah comes as abortion opponents across the country push for near-total banson the procedure, emboldened by the new conservative majority on the Supreme Court. They are seeking cases that could be used to challenge Roe v. Wade, the court’s 1973 ruling that legalized abortion nationwide.

“Their ultimate goal is to make abortion illegal,” Galloway said. “They have tried that, they have been unsuccessful so they are taking dings at it in small hits. This is the one this legislature chose this year.”

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, a Republican, said when he signed the law that it strikes a balance between a woman’s right to choose and protecting unborn babies. He also said he was not worried about the potential $2 million cost of a lawsuit if the state loses.

Herbert’s spokeswoman Anna Lehnardt declined comment, saying he does not comment on pending litigation.

The sponsor of the Utah measure, Republican Rep. Cheryl Acton, said she wants to reduce the number of second-trimester abortions that “shock the conscience.”

Acton said after the lawsuit was filed that she agrees that the Utah law faces long odds of being upheld at the lower court level, but is enthused at the possibility that it might eventually be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court on appeal.

“We believe that it time to revisit Roe v. Wade,” said Acton, a part-time writer and editor from the Salt Lake City suburb of West Jordan. “The risks to women were not understood at that time.”

That includes rare physical harm and common emotional and psychological damage, Acton said.

Marina Lowe of the ACLU said research refutes Acton’s claim.

The law adds to a long list of statewide abortion restrictions, including a 72-hour waiting period and an in-person informed consent session for women seeking abortions.

Herbert also signed a law this year banning abortion if the only reason is fetal diagnosis of Down syndrome. The law contains a so-called trigger clause and would not go into effect unless a similar measure is upheld in court in another U.S. state.

Planned Parenthood and the ACLU won a similar lawsuit filed in the 1990s that led an appeals court to overturn a Utah law that banned abortions after 20 weeks.

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