Utah’s trigger law will ban most abortions

Jun 24, 2022, 2:18 PM | Updated: 2:35 pm

The University of Utah, U of U, Health has opened a new rapid contraception clinic, to give people ...

Protesters hold signs and chant at the Utah Capitol in Salt Lake City on Friday, June 24, 2022, as they protest the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn of Roe v. Wade. Health officials say they saw increased demand for contraception after the ruling. (Scott G. Winteron/Deseret News)

(Scott G. Winteron/Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah is one thirteen states that, because the United States Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, has a “trigger law” that would go into effect. It bans abortion, except if the fetus or pregnant woman’s health is severely threatened, or if the pregnancy was caused by rape or incest.

Some health and legal experts are struggling to determine what those exceptions actually mean.

From a lawyer’s perspective

As University of Utah law professor, Leslie Francis, read through the trigger law, she had questions. It allows an abortion if the fetus will live in a “mentally vegetative state” if born.

“Mentally vegetative state is not a medical term,” Francis said.

Francis also said the law is vague. For example, it permits abortion if the fetus has a uniformly diagnosable and lethal defect.

“I do not know what that means,” said Francis. “What about a fetus that has a one in a million chance of survival?”

What lawmakers have to say

But the bill’s sponsor, Sen.Dan McCay, R-Riverton, said this language and these exceptions are not new to Utah’s law.

“The exceptions were in place for abortions that occurred after the viability standard,” McCay said.

Senator McCay says if the law goes into effect, the health department will issue rules. They’ll work with the administrative law commission and administrative rules commission “to make sure that those rules are appropriate and that they balance the medical terminology of the time along with the spirit of the statute.”

Here’s how other Utah leaders are reacting.

How health care workers approach this

Dr. Lori Gawron, an OBGYN, said the law isn’t based on medical diagnoses. Gawron says there are only a couple of diagnoses visible on an ultrasound that are “uniformly lethal.”

“The reality is that on fetal imaging and diagnostic testing, often it’s a cluster of findings. And each one thing may carry a certain prognosis, but clustered together, we don’t know.”

Gawron says it may be likely that the combination of defects are lethal. But a provider can’t be certain.

“As (with) most things in medicine, there’s a lot of gray area and there’s a spectrum of outcomes.”

And, Gawron said, doctors can’t tell if a fetus will live in a “vegetative state.”

“Well, there’s no way to diagnose in a fetus what neurologic capacity they will have after delivery, just based on what we can see on a two-dimensional ultrasound image,” Gawron said.

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Utah’s trigger law will ban most abortions