Abortion providers are undeterred after receiving Republican signed cease-and-desist letters
SALT LAKE CITY — A Utah physicians group has denounced a cease-and-desist letter sent to abortion providers by a group of Utah Republican lawmakers that threatens legal action, despite a judge putting Utah’s abortion trigger law on hold.
The Utah Medical Association joins others who have decried the letter, including the Planned Parenthood Association of Utah, the ACLU, and legal analysts, who say that the lawmakers backing cease-and-desist letters is not legally sound.
Soon after the letter’s release, one lawmaker said he is retracting his signature on the letters while two other lawmakers issued a clarification on the original letter.
A coalition of Utah Republican legislators signed cease-and-desist letters to abortion providers and funders on Thursday, warning them to stop providing abortion services.
On Thursday, Sept. 15h, Rep. Kera Biekrland, R-Morgan, and Karianne Lisbonbee, R-Clearfield, sent cease-and-desist letters to abortion providers and funders with signatures from multiple Utah Republican legislators and candidates.
The lawmakers stated to the letter’s recipients that abortion is a felony criminal offense in Utah and could face criminal prosecution, even if there is a preliminary block of the state’s trigger ban.
“The legislators are also warning that anyone who is currently violating Utah’s trigger ban will be prosecuted in the future for those crimes if the preliminary injunction is vacated or reversed on appeal,” reads the cease-and-desist letter press release, including “anyone who sends or receives abortion-inducing drugs in interstate commerce.”
The lawmakers claim that abortion providers have been disregarding local and federal criminal statutes after Judge Andrew Stone’s temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction on July 28.
“Judge Stone’s injunction does not suspend the trigger ban itself, and it cannot shield abortion providers and their accomplices from consequences for their violations of the state’s abortion statutes if the injunction is vacated or reversed on appeal,” continues the press release. “Nor does Judge Stone’s injunction do anything to shield abortion providers from the requirements of federal law, such as the criminal prohibitions on the shipment or receipt of abortion pills.”
Both lawmakers promised to introduce legislation that will automatically revoke the medical licenses of any medical professional who violates the trigger ban. The new legislation will also allow the Attorney General of Utah and district attorneys to prosecute offenders if local attorneys fail or refuse to.
“Abortion remains a criminal offense in Utah, and the trigger ban is in effect,” Lisonbee, who signed the cease-and-desist letters, said. “The legislature will ensure that anyone who violates the laws of our state is held accountable for their criminal acts. Anyone who is performing or assisting abortions in violation of our statutes must immediately stop or face future criminal prosecution.”
Lawmakers sent the cease-and-desist letters to Planned Parenthood Association Utah, Wasatch Women’s Center, National Abortion Federation, National Association of Abortion Funds, Utah Abortion Fund, and University of Utah’s David K. Turok.
On Friday Sept. 16, KSL legal analyst Greg Skordas told KSL Newsradio that the lawmakers backing cease-and-desist letters are, legally, in the wrong.
“The (trigger) law has been stayed. It is not the current Utah law. An older trigger law is in place, which allows for the procedure to occur up to 18 weeks,” Skordas said. “But what they’re saying is that the original law that’s been stayed is the law of the land, and in my opinion, that’s just absolutely not true.”
Karrie Galloway, president and CEO of Utah’s Planned Parenthood, also made a statement on the legality of the letters, calling it a stunt to scare people.
“Our lawyers are reviewing the letter, but this appears to be a stunt to further harass abortion providers and stigmatize patients who need care. PPAU is providing abortion care in full compliance with current law and always has,” reads the statement.
This is a political stunt. Full stop. Anti-abortion politicians want to circumvent the judicial system by harassing providers and instilling a culture of fear. PPAU is providing abortion care in full compliance with current law and always has. Abortion is legal up to 18 wks. https://t.co/5gJyHOfsAP
— PPAC Utah (@ppacutah) September 16, 2022
The UMA denounced the cease-and-desist letters, in a statement, as they seem to threaten physicians with future prosecution, even if the practice is currently legal.
“Physicians need to be able to rely on clear, established laws and regulations to help inform them as to what is permitted and how they can best serve their patients. Threats of retroactive prosecution if current law is someday altered because the trigger law goes into effect does not stand up to legal scrutiny,” UMA President Mark R. Greenwood, MD, said in the statement.
Meanwhile, Pro-Life Utah Executive Director Deanna Holland said their organization appreciates the lawmaker letters and supports them for holding abortion providers accountable for illegal abortions:
“It is unconscionable that these providers have disregarded Utah statute and continued to kill since the end of Roe v Wade and the enactment of Utah’s Trigger Law.”
After the cease-and-desist letters were sent out, Rep. Steve Handy, R-Clearfield, went on KSL Newsradio to clarify he is retracting his signature on the letters and that abortion is still legal for up to 18 weeks.
“My understanding when I was presented the letter is that it was more cautionary,” Handy told Jeff Caplan’s Afternoon News. “It seems to me, that the letter is a little harsher than I recall agreeing to sign on to.”
Handy mentioned he did vote for the trigger bill and wishes to help women to get adequate health care.
Birkeland and Lisonbee issued a clarification on the letters sent, saying the letters were not drafted by legislative attorneys.
“We want to clarify that the press release and letter we issued was not a legal analysis from the Utah Office of Legislative Research and General Counsel but our opinion and the opinion of the legislators who signed it,” reads the updated statement. “While we are incredibly disappointed with the judge’s ruling to stay enforcement of S.B. 174, we respect the law and process.”
Below are the Republican Representatives and candidates who added their signatures to the letters:
- Walt Brooks
- Cory Maloy
- Ken Ivory
- Jordan Teuscher
- Kera Birkeland
- Karianne Lisonbee
- Cheryl Acton
- Melissa Ballard
- Adam Robertson
- Judy Rohner
- Jon Hawkins
- Mark Strong
- Mike Petersen
- Stephen Whyte
- Stephen Handy (retracted)
- Matt Gwynn
- Rex Shipp
- Carl Albrecht
- Kay Christofferson
- Colin Jack
- Steve Lund
- Brady Brammer
- Candidate Stephanie Gricius
- Candidate Katy Hall
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