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Utah agrees to delay implementation of new law on abortions

Krista Noyes holds a sign showing her opposition to Planned Parenthood Association of Utah and the ACLU of Utah Foundation's lawsuit against H.B. 136, the 18-week abortion ban passed by the Utah legislature. Photo: Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

By LINDSAY WHITEHURST and BRADY McCOMBS Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Utah officials agreed Thursday to delay the implementation of a new law that bans most abortions after 18 weeks of pregnancy as a legal challenge plays out in the courts.

Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes made the announcement shortly before a court hearing in which abortion-rights advocates who sued over the law were set to ask a judge to delay the measure that had been set to take effect May 14.

Reyes, a Republican, said his office will still defend the constitutionality of the law but noted the delay will allow both sides to prepare for the case involving the contentious, deeply personal issue.

Reyes said he expects the case, or one like it, to eventually reach the U.S. Supreme Court.

“Besides presenting questions about the fundamental right of the unborn to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, as well as the health and safety of the mother and her rights, the case raises important questions about governmental power and the proper role of courts,” Reyes said.

The delay means the “reproductive rights” of Utah residents will be protected while attorneys show the judge that the law violates the Constitution, said Leah Farrell, staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah. The ACLU and the Planned Parenthood Association of Utah sued to block the law.

“People can feel good about having access to the health care that they need,” Farrell said.

The groups argued in the lawsuit filed last week that the law violates the U.S. Supreme Court’s longtime stance that states cannot ban abortion before a fetus is viable outside the womb.

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

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, also a Republican, said when he signed the law that it strikes a balance between a woman’s right to choose and protecting fetuses.

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

The legal battle in Utah comes as abortion opponents across the country push for near-total bans on the procedure, emboldened by the new conservative majority on the Supreme Court.

The opponents are seeking cases that could be used to challenge Roe v. Wade, the 1973 case that legalized abortion nationwide.

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