Interpretation of the Utah Constitution will likely determine fate of abortion trigger law

Jul 12, 2022, 5:00 PM | Updated: Dec 30, 2022, 11:20 am

utah constitution abortion...

Image of the Utah Constitution, courtesy of Utah State Archives,

SALT LAKE CITY — The fate of an abortion trigger law rests largely on the interpretation of the Utah Constitution, a process that could play out over months or years. 

The Utah trigger law, S.B. 174, was placed on hold this week when Third District Court Judge Andrew Stone issued a preliminary injunction. The injunction was sought by Planned Parenthood of Utah, the plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed against the state over S.B. 174.

But the issuing of a preliminary injunction is not a decision on the merits of the constitutionality of Utah’s trigger law. As Planned Parenthood’s attorney Julie Murray explained to KSL at Night, “It’s a decision that maintains the status quo until a decision on the merits (of S.B. 174) can be made.”

The status quo, in this case, allows for abortion up to 18 weeks of pregnancy.

What triggered Utah’s trigger law

When the United States Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade several weeks ago in the case of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, it held that the U.S. Constitution did not confer a right to abortion. In some cases, the decision had a quick domino effect, as so-called “trigger laws” took effect in thirteen states. These laws automatically either restricted or banned abortions in most cases in the event Roe v. Wade was overturned.

As of this writing, only Kentucky, South Dakota, and Louisiana’s laws have taken effect. For some of the other states, there is a waiting period of 25-30 days before the law goes into effect.

And for still other states, including Utah, there are legal challenges to their trigger laws based on state laws and constitutions.

The abortion trigger law and the Utah Constitution

The argument to protect abortion rights in Utah is based on the state constitution, not the federal Constitution.

“States are free to adopt even more protective portions of their constitution,” Murray explained. “That is what Utah has done in its constitution. It has protections for the family unit, for equal rights for men and women, for bodily integrity. The U.S. Constitution uses very different language.”

“Constitutionally irrelevant” 

The state of Utah’s legal brief did not address these arguments directly. It said that the plaintiff’s claims were “constitutionally irrelevant.”

The House sponsor of the trigger law, Karianne Lisonbee, R-Clearfield, told KSL at Night she was very disappointed with the court’s decision to issue an injunction.

“He seemed to have written his opinion before the hearing,” she said. “He came in with it ready to go. He mistakenly claimed that the legislature didn’t look before it leaped.”

The case heads first to trial, then perhaps to the Utah Court of Appeals and even the Utah Supreme Court. The Utah Supreme Court is the ultimate interpreter of the Utah Constitution, so it would be up to Utah’s highest court to decide whether the state constitution’s unique language requires a different result than the U.S. Supreme Court found in Dobbs.

A final decision could take months, or more likely years, to make it through the appeal process.

Related reading:

We want to hear from you.

Have a story idea or tip? Send it to the KSL NewsRadio team here.

Crime, Police + Courts

The search is underway for 25-year-old Tobias Braaten who planned to hike on the Fernwood Trail Fri...

Devin Oldroyd

Search for missing Fernwood Trail hiker underway

The search is underway for 25-year-old Tobias Braaten who planned to hike on the Fernwood Trail Friday and return Saturday.

1 hour ago

In this June 5, 2019, file photo, Morgan Wallen arrives at the CMT Music Awards on at the Bridgesto...

Associated Press

Recently arrested Morgan Wallen says he’s “not proud” of behavior

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Country music star Morgan Wallen, who faces charges stemming in part from accusations that he threw a chair off the rooftop of a six-story bar, says he’s “not proud” of his behavior and accepts responsibility. The “One Thing at a Time” singer responded publicly Friday night on social media to his […]

19 hours ago

Texts shown during Chad Daybell's jury trial show he and Lori Daybell planned to be together in Haw...

Emily Ashcraft,

Texts show Chad and Lori Daybell’s relationship days after death of Lori Daybell’s husband

Just days after Charles Vallow was shot and killed in his wife Lori Vallow Daybell’s home, she was exchanging sexual texts with Chad Daybell.

2 days ago

The Unified Police Department is searching for a missing 13-year-old girl from Midvale Friday night...

Devin Oldroyd

UPDATE: Unified Police Department no longer searching for missing 13-year-old in Midvale

The Unified Police Department is searching for a missing 13-year-old girl from Midvale Friday night.

2 days ago

Alex Ye, an 18-year-old Maryland high school student, was arrested and charged with threat of mass ...

Chris Boyette, Braden Walker and Jillian Sykes, CNN

Maryland student arrested, 129-page document found detailing school shooting plan

A Maryland high school student was arrested and charged with threat of mass violence Wednesday.

2 days ago

Former President Donald Trump speaks to the media as he enters Manhattan Criminal Court on Friday, ...

Associated Press

Trump’s legal team again asks appeals court to intervene in hush money case

A jury of 12 people and six alternates has been seated in former President Donald Trump's hush money trial in New York.

2 days ago

Sponsored Articles

a person dressed up as a nordic viking in a dragon boat resembling the bear lake monster...

Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

The Legend of the Bear Lake Monster

The Bear Lake monster has captivated people in the region for centuries, with tales that range from the believable to the bizarre.


Live Nation Concerts

All the artists coming to Utah First Credit Union Amphitheatre (formerly USANA Amp) this summer

Summer concerts are more than just entertainment; they’re a celebration of life, love, and connection.

Mother and cute toddler child in a little fancy wooden cottage, reading a book, drinking tea and en...

Visit Bear Lake

How to find the best winter lodging in Bear Lake, Utah

Winter lodging in Bear Lake can be more limited than in the summer, but with some careful planning you can easily book your next winter trip.

Happy family in winter clothing at the ski resort, winter time, watching at mountains in front of t...

Visit Bear Lake

Ski more for less: Affordable ski resorts near Bear Lake, Utah

Plan your perfect ski getaway in Bear Lake this winter, with pristine slopes, affordable tickets, and breathtaking scenery.

front of the Butch Cassidy museum with a man in a cowboy hat standing in the doorway...

Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

Looking Back: The History of Bear Lake

The history of Bear Lake is full of fascinating stories. At over 250,000 years old, the lake has seen generations of people visit its shores.

silhouette of a family looking over a lake with a bird in the top corner flying...

Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

8 Fun Activities To Do in Bear Lake Without Getting in the Water

Bear Lake offers plenty of activities for the whole family to enjoy without having to get in the water. Catch 8 of our favorite activities.

Interpretation of the Utah Constitution will likely determine fate of abortion trigger law