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Roundups Law and Policy

‘Trigger Ban’ Moves Forward in Utah: Spotlight on the States

Dennis Carter

Utah lawmakers also debated a forced ultrasound bill that could make pregnant people pay for the mandatory procedure.

Every week, Rewire.News highlights trends in abortion-related legislation moving through the states, and how those bills might affect abortion access. This week, we take a look at Utah’s proposed “trigger law” and forced ultrasound bill, a near-total abortion ban in Alaska, and a forced 48-hour waiting period advancing in Wyoming. 

Utah

A “trigger ban” that would outlaw abortion in the state if the U.S. Supreme Court strikes down Roe v. Wade cleared an initial vote in the Utah Senate last week. After the senate committee on health and human services approved the bill Wednesday, SB 174 passed a second reading in a Friday party-line vote on the senate floor. Before the vote, lawmakers rejected an amendment by Sen. Luz Escamilla (D-Salt Lake City) proposing to prohibit any male ejaculation that takes place outside a vagina—the latest example of satirical “joke” legislation from pro-choice state lawmakers.

The trigger ban still needs to pass a third reading in the senate before moving to the state house. If the bill passes, Utah would join eight states with trigger bans.

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Just days earlier, pro-choice advocates released a poll (commissioned by Planned Parenthood Association of Utah, Alliance for a Better Utah, and the ACLU of Utah) showing 80 percent of Utahns oppose making the state’s abortion laws stricter.

Meanwhile, the Utah House Judiciary Committee spent Friday morning debating a forced ultrasound bill that could make pregnant people pay for the mandatory procedure—unless they’re willing to go to an anti-choice pregnancy center to get it. After a fiscal analysis of the bill’s original version estimated it would cost the state health department $76,900 a year, Rep. Steve Christiansen (R), the bill’s sponsor, submitted revised legislation Wednesday that would require pregnant people to pay a “reasonable fee.” Christiansen said ultrasounds would remain free at anti-choice clinics, which don’t provide a full range of reproductive health care. The committee tabled the discussion without voting on the bill, which seeks to add to the mandatory counseling and 72-hour waiting period that Utah already imposes.

Alaska 

Alaska’s Republican-majority legislature will consider a near-total abortion ban after Rep. Sarah Vance (R-Homer) introduced a “heartbeat” bill last week. So-called fetal heartbeat legislation outlaws abortion around six weeks into a pregnancy, before most people know they’re pregnant. The bill was referred to the house health and social services committee. It has 18 co-sponsors, which means it will only need a few more supporters to reach the 21 votes needed to pass the Alaska House of Representatives.

HB 302 defines a fetal heartbeat as “cardiac activity or the steady and repetitive rhythmic contraction of the fetal heart within the gestational sac.” This language is medically inaccurate because at six weeks’ gestation, there is no fetus and no heart; what can be measured is electrical activity in the fetal pole, a thick area extending along the embryo.

Xochitl Lopez-Ayala, a board member of the Northwest Abortion Access Fund, criticized bills like HB 302 for being written dishonestly. “They’re basically designed as propaganda to ban an abortion,” Lopez-Ayala told Homer News. “They’re trying to use terms that would resonate with people more.”

Wyoming

The Wyoming House of Representatives passed a forced 48-hour waiting period bill, HB 197, on Friday. Seven Republicans joined the chamber’s nine Democrats to vote against the bill. While they failed to stop the legislation, they succeeded in amending it to reduce the penalty against physicians who violate the waiting period.

The amendment, introduced by Rep. Andi Clifford (D-Fremont), would make violating the law a misdemeanor punishable with a maximum of one year in prison, a $1,000 fine, or both, KGAB reports. Doctors who violated the law would have faced a felony up to ten years in prison under the original bill.

The bill now moves to the state senate, in which only three out of 30 senators are Democrats.

Research has shown that forced waiting periods rarely dissuade people from seeking abortion care—they do, however, introduce logistical and financial roadblocks to care.

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