‘It was hastily passed’: Medical, legal experts raise concerns about Utah’s abortion trigger law

Jun 24, 2022, 11:45 AM | Updated: 8:49 pm

SALT LAKE CITY – The Utah Legislature prepared for the day the U.S. Supreme Court might return abortion rights to the states.  

In 2020, lawmakers debated, voted on and passed Senate Bill 174, a “trigger law” that former Republican Gov. Gary Herbert then signed into law – all before the ruling announced Friday opened the door to restricting abortions in Utah.  

The bill’s chief sponsor, Sen. Daniel McCay, R-Riverton, said the law was crafted, in part, to send a message.  

“We wanted to put a stake in the ground and say, ‘Hey, Supreme Court and others across the United States, where would Utah be,’ ” he said. McCay characterized the result of that effort as a ban on elective abortions.  


SB 174 does not apply to procedures after a miscarriage or an ectopic pregnancy. It also allows some exceptions:  

  • When necessary to prevent death or “serious risk of substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function” of the mother  
  • Cases of rape, child rape and incest that have been reported to law enforcement 
  • Instances of a “uniformly diagnosable” and lethal defect or brain abnormality in the fetus  

Physicians who provide abortions outside of the restrictions can face felony criminal charges.  

“I’m sure if there was a poll of unborn children as to whether or not they’d want to live, I think, unfortunately, they can’t speak for themselves,” McCay said. “So, I think in this situation, the law has to step in and speak for them.”

Medical and legal experts have concerns about putting the law into practice.  

“It was hastily passed,” Karrie Galloway, President and CEO of Planned Parenthood Association of Utah said. “And we’ve got a lot of figuring out how to make it work.”

Teneille Brown is a law professor at the University of Utah and specializes in health law but represented only herself when speaking with KSL about Utah’s trigger law.

“It seems to have kind of started and ended from a place of moral outrage and not thinking through the policy implications,” she said.  

Both Brown and Galloway said the legislation will present significant ethical challenges for physicians. They believe too much of the language in the law is undefined and at odds with real medical terms.  

“If you’re going to allow healthcare providers to interpret the law, I have to tell you, it’s going to be different than how the legislators who made the law think it should be interpreted,” Galloway said. “My guess is sometimes these things are going to end up in court.”  

Brown pointed to phrases like “irreversible impairment” and “uniformly diagnosable.”

“The law here is very absolute, ‘certainty,’ ‘uniformly diagnosable,’ that’s not the way medicine works,” she said. “That’s not the way our bodies work. Everything exists on a spectrum.”

Their concerns echo those of Draper Democrat Rep. Suzanne Harrison during debate on the house floor in 2020.  

“I rise in opposition to this bill, and I rise as a healthcare medical physician,” she said.  

Harrison shared with fellow lawmakers that most physicians cannot predict outcomes with certainty and requiring such could create dangerous outcomes for patients.  

“For us to be putting in statute political gobbledygook as a medical requirement for a diagnosis that two physicians have to sign, under penalty of medical legal liability, is dangerous,” she said.  

When asked whether there are elements of the legislation that are problematic, McCay said, “It’s always hard trying to find the right balance of these things. The legislature meets every year for a reason because we’re constantly revisiting policy.”   

McCay did not rule out the possibility that the Legislature will consider changes, or even additional restrictions in the future.  

SB 174 will go into effect in Utah after the Office of Legislative Research and General Counsel meets and reviews the SCOTUS ruling, determines it allows for Utah to ban abortions, and notifies legislative leadership.

KSL 5 TV Live

KSL Investigates

Peggy Lundberg tells KSL’s Matt Gephardt about her experience of having her travel credit stolen....

Matt Gephardt and Sloan Schrage

Thieves stealing airline travel credits: How you can protect them

If someone steals your credit card or hacks into your bank account, federal law says you should get most of your money back. But what protections do you have when someone steals your airline travel credits?

1 hour ago

Matt Gephardt looking over the CarShield documents for Scott Dumas....

Matt Gephardt and Sloan Schrage, KSL TV

West Haven man says extended auto warranty refuses to cover costly engine repair

Many drivers buy an extended auto warranty to help keep their car on the road, but when the extended warranty a West Haven man bought refused to cover replacing an engine, he decided to Get Gephardt.

4 days ago

Follow @KSL5TVLike us on Facebook...

Matt Gephardt

How hoarding documents puts you at risk for identity theft

Someone who knows what they’re doing can do a whole lot of damage with the scraps of paper you’ve stashed in filing cabinets, drawers and other various hiding places around your house.

5 days ago

IOC excludes Russian and Belarusian athletes from Paris 2024 Olympics opening ceremonies....

Matt Gephardt

Get Gephardt: How to stay ahead of the 2024 Olympics scams

As Utahns know firsthand from 2002, the Olympics can be a bit chaotic with millions in an unfamiliar place. The situation is sure to entice opportunistic con men with Olympic scams.

6 days ago

Prosecutors filed felony charges in a Salt Lake City rape case from 2019, but later reduced them to...

Daniella Rivera

Could making this change help Utah improve sexual assault prosecutions?

Only a fraction of sexual assaults reported to police in Utah result in criminal charges for the perpetrator, but a legislative proposal could potentially change that.

7 days ago

FILE: construction zone...

Matt Gephardt

How to avoid hiring a bad contractor

Bobby Main investigates contractors for Utah's Division of Professional Licensing, here's his advice for avoiding bad contractors.

7 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Women hold card for scanning key card to access Photocopier Security system concept...

Les Olson

Why Printer Security Should Be Top of Mind for Your Business

Connected printers have vulnerable endpoints that are an easy target for cyber thieves. Protect your business with these tips.

Modern chandelier hanging from a white slanted ceiling with windows in the backgruond...

Lighting Design

Light Up Your Home With These Top Lighting Trends for 2024

Check out the latest lighting design trends for 2024 and tips on how you can incorporate them into your home.

Technician woman fixing hardware of desktop computer. Close up....

PC Laptops

Tips for Hassle-Free Computer Repairs

Experiencing a glitch in your computer can be frustrating, but with these tips you can have your computer repaired without the stress.

Close up of finger on keyboard button with number 11 logo...

PC Laptops

7 Reasons Why You Should Upgrade Your Laptop to Windows 11

Explore the benefits of upgrading to Windows 11 for a smoother, more secure, and feature-packed computing experience.

Stylish room interior with beautiful Christmas tree and decorative fireplace...

Lighting Design

Create a Festive Home with Our Easy-to-Follow Holiday Prep Guide

Get ready for festive celebrations! Discover expert tips to prepare your home for the holidays, creating a warm and welcoming atmosphere for unforgettable moments.

Battery low message on mobile device screen. Internet and technology concept...

PC Laptops

9 Tips to Get More Power Out of Your Laptop Battery

Get more power out of your laptop battery and help it last longer by implementing some of these tips from our guide.

‘It was hastily passed’: Medical, legal experts raise concerns about Utah’s abortion trigger law