COURTS & LEGAL

Abortion clinic ban in Utah challenged by lawsuit

Apr 3, 2023, 3:07 PM

FILE - Salt Lake City Plan Parenthood Offices...

FILE - Salt Lake City Plan Parenthood Offices

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The Planned Parenthood Association of Utah and ACLU of Utah filed a lawsuit Monday challenging a new state law that would ban abortion clinics in the deeply conservative state, arguing that would effectively limit access for those seeking abortions even though they remain legal in Utah up to 18 weeks of pregnancy.

The clinic law signed by Republican Gov. Spencer Cox last month is set to take effect May 3, at which time abortion clinics will no longer be able to apply to be licensed. It institutes a full ban Jan. 1, 2024. Due to concerns about legal liability, Planned Parenthood said they would plan to stop providing abortions as soon as the law takes effect due to what they interpret as conflicting provisions of the law.

Planned Parenthood operates three of the state’s four abortion clinics and said they do not intend to discontinue the majority of non-abortion services they provide — including tests and screenings for pregnancy, cancer and sexually transmitted infections.

Sarah Stoesz, the president-CEO of Utah’s Planned Parenthood affiliate, called the law “cruel” and said it was tantamount to a full ban on abortions. She warned that the state’s hospitals weren’t designed or equipped to accommodate the patients that have sought comparatively affordable care at specialty clinics for decades.

“Honestly, there are no realistic alternative locations for Utahns to continue to get this really essential health care,” Stoesz said. “This law wouldn’t just ‘shift care’ to hospitals — as some politicians are cynically maintaining. In fact, it would functionally eliminate access to abortion in Utah, putting the lives and health of people at risk.”

Utah bill to close abortion clinics passes Legislature

Utah lawmakers have previously said they no longer think the state needs a specific licensing scheme for abortion clinics after the high court overturned Roe v. Wade and the constitutional right to abortion. They’ve noted that, in addition to creating a new, more restrictive post-Roe licensing scheme, the law also clarifies the definition of abortion to address liability concerns about how exceptions are worded in state law — a provision Republicans have called a compromise.

Rep. Karianne Lisonbee, the legislation’s Republican sponsor, said after Cox signed the ban that the final version of her legislation was a byproduct of working with doctors and hospitals to “strike the best balance of protecting innocent life and protecting women who experience rare and dangerous complications during pregnancy.”

Still, the signing of the law last month set off a rush of confusion among clinics, hospitals and prospective patients, who are already navigating a raft of overlapping trigger laws and legal challenges in Utah.

Since the law’s passage, Republican legislators and Utah’s Department of Health and Human Services have said abortion clinics could apply for new licenses as hospitals.

“If an abortion clinic meets the requirements of a hospital then they may apply for a hospital license,” Charla Haley, a state health department spokesperson, said in a statement last month.

However, doing so would likely require major changes for the state’s four standalone clinics, which primarily provide medication abortion and have relied on clinicians and nurse practitioners rather than physicians and surgeons.

The turmoil mirrors developments in Republican strongholds throughout the United States that have taken shape since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, transformed the legal landscape and prompted a raft of lawsuits in at least 21 states.

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Abortion clinic ban in Utah challenged by lawsuit