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Summit lawmakers split on abortion bill

Patrick Parkinson Of the Record staff

With House lawmakers poised to debate a bill that would require doctors receive parental consent before performing an abortion for a minor, pro-choice advocates are wondering why the lawmaker wants to tamper with a state law they say has worked for decades.

The debate locally about abortion could kick off in the wake of U.S. Senate confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito. Congressional Democrats grilled the judge this week about positions he reportedly took in the past on the Supreme Court’s decision in the Roe vs. Wade case that allowed doctors to perform abortions in the United States.

"Our state in the same breath that they are troubled and offended by the right to choose, are reluctant to educate our youth about responsible sex education and pregnancy prevention," said state Rep. Ross Romero, a Democrat who represents portions of the Snyderville Basin in Utah’s House of Representatives. "That’s an important dialogue that must be considered so our youth do not get pregnant to begin with." At issue in Utah is whether a girl under 18 years of age should be required to obtain consent from a parent or guardian before she can have a legal abortion. Unless it’s a medical emergency, a case of incest or the girl fears her parents would abuse her for the decision, House Bill 85, proposed by Rep. Kerry Gibson, R-Ogden, would require physicians receive parental consent at least 24 hours before the procedure.

A state law enacted in the 1970s already requires doctors notify a parent before performing an abortion for a minor, said Sen. Bev Evans, a Republican who represents portions of Summit County.

"It’s worked effectively and it’s allowed families to make decisions," Evans said, adding, "we haven’t had any complaints, we haven’t had any problems and we haven’t had any challenges."

Romero agrees. "I would say that the current law provides a reasonable balance relative to informing the family about a (minor’s) decision and still providing that individual a reasonable amount of latitude to make a very difficult decision," Romero said. "I’m reluctant to change the status quo."

Abortion-rights advocates haven’t challenged Utah’s notification law but according to state Sen. Allen Christensen, a Republican who represents most of eastern Summit County, it’s not enough.

Many parents are notified via postcards through the mail, Christensen said, adding, "whether they got the notification or not has nothing to do with it." "We’re told that by far the majority of them come in with the parents but there are still some out there who don’t," he said. "A lot of these things get done without sufficient foresight, without sufficient knowledge and without sufficient experience for the individual girl to make that decision on her own." Twenty-eight House lawmakers including Kamas Republican David Ure have co-sponsored HB 85. Each sponsor is up for re-election in November. "A postcard would be fine but it’s after the fact," Ure said. "I think the least we can do is respect the parents’ rights."

Ure expects Gibson’s bill to move easily through the Legislature. "I don’t see there’s anything wrong with making the parent sign for an abortion," he said.

If lawmakers and Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. endorse the legislation, Gibson’s bill would establish a judicial bypass process for minors to request from a court the right to obtain an abortion without parental consent. "If they were going to get stitches they would have to have parental consent it seems like it’s no different from any other medical procedure," Senate President John Valentine said. "It seems like to me that an un-emancipated minor should have parental notification and parental consent." Planned Parenthood: bill kept secret

Opponents of HB 85 criticized Gibson for not releasing details of the bill until a press conference last week. "Through rumor we became aware of it but we were not allowed to know who the sponsor was or what the bill said until he released it," said Karrie Galloway, chief executive officer for Planned Parenthood Association of Utah. "It was a very controlled situation on the part of the sponsor and co-sponsors." Gibson’s attempt to prevent abortions is misguided and could stifle communication in families currently encouraged by Utah’s notification law, she added. "I think there are times that abortion may be the best decision," Galloway said, adding that roughly 90 percent of teens that visit the state’s three private abortion clinics bring parents. "And in many cases they bring their partner and his parents. Our law as it currently is has parents talking." Requiring parental consent could impact those discussions, she said. "Does it also make it more difficult for a parent? If they have to sign a paper that gives their consent, does that change the dynamics of what happens in that family?" Galloway asked. She also criticized Gibson for not appropriating money in HB 85 to fund the judicial bypass. Funding is needed to train judges and for legal representation for girls, Galloway said, adding that Utah has one of the lowest abortion rates in the country. "Representative Gibson believes he knows better than parents and so he’s going to put another restriction on the family," Galloway said.

Planned Parenthood, however, doesn’t plan to challenge the law if the bill passes. "We don’t file frivolous lawsuits, only if things are unconstitutional," Galloway said. "It appears to pass muster."


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