Summit County’s state senators vote for bill that would ban almost all abortions if Roe v. Wade is overturned
Both state senators that represent Summit County supported a bill seeking to ban almost all abortions, providing half the votes that moved the legislation out of committee and to the Senate floor.
For Sen. Allen Christensen, R-North Ogden, the reason he supported the ban was simple, though he said the divisiveness of the topic weighed on him.
“I think at the moment of conception, that is a baby. That essentially is what it comes down to,” Christensen said. “When you end that — and I call it a baby — when you end that baby’s life, you’re giving a woman choice and not the baby.”
Sen. Ron Winterton, R-Roosevelt, who also voted for the bill, did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
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S.B. 174 was recommended by the Senate Health and Human Services Committee on Wednesday. The vote was split on partisan and gender lines: The four senators who voted for it are male Republicans; the two senators who opposed it are Democratic women.
The bill would ban all abortions with limited exceptions and would take effect if Roe v. Wade is overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court, something that Christensen noted is “one heartbeat away” from happening.
If it were to pass the House and Senate and be signed by the governor, the law would go into effect the day that Roe v. Wade is overturned. At that time, an abortion could be performed in Utah only if it is necessary to avert the death or “irreversible impairment of a major bodily function” of the woman, if the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest, or if two physicians concur in writing that the fetus has a lethal defect or severe brain abnormality.
The bill was amended before it was recommended by the committee to clarify language about potential legal penalties. If it were to become law, a doctor who performed an abortion that did not comply with these regulations would have committed a second-degree felony, which is punishable by up to 15 years in prison. Before the amendment, it was unclear whether the woman receiving the abortion would be subject to a prison sentence, as well. The amended bill applies a penalty only to the person who performs the procedure.
Christensen said divisive issues like abortion wear on him and contributed to his decision to retire at the conclusion of his current term at the end of the year.
“Someone has to make those decisions — that’s why I got into government, because someone was going to decide it and they wouldn’t always decide the way that I like,” he said. “My voice, at least in this position, gets heard.”
He said he hadn’t considered the fact that the dissenting committee votes were from women.
“I’ve never even thought about it being male vs. female, and even less so white vs. colored,” Christensen said. Sen. Jani Iwamoto, D-Salt Lake City, identifies as Asian American in a biography on a campaign website, and Sen. Luz Escamilla, D-Salt Lake City, moved to the United States from Mexico in 1996, according to her campaign materials.
Christensen said he holds women in higher esteem than men.
“A woman is a woman and on my scale, she’s higher than the man is because she is a gentle soul and she has that reproductive ability. So they say you’re — men are looking down; I look up to women,” he said.
Karrie Galloway, the CEO of Planned Parenthood Utah, said she is disappointed with the vote, and especially that the bill was introduced in the second half of the legislative session, which tends to be more frenetic and she said reduces the opportunity for meaningful debate.
“It’s all an attempt to take away a woman’s bodily autonomy, her agency to make decisions about when and if to be pregnant,” Galloway said.
She said the bill is likely timed to coincide with other legislation around the country that seeks to erode abortion rights while the Trump administration continues to nominate conservative judges.
Several states also have similar so-called “trigger laws” that would be implemented if Roe v. Wade is overturned.
S.B. 174 is one of three bills that appear to target abortion this legislative session, including a mandatory ultrasound bill and regulations for disposing of fetal remains.
A 2019 law banning abortions after 18 weeks is tied up in the courts. Utah has a 72-hour waiting period in most cases, and women seeking abortions are required to be informed of things like exactly what the procedure does to the fetus and to hear a description of its development.
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The task force includes representatives from Park City, Summit County and several business entities.