Bill to ‘simplify’ lawsuit over Utah’s abortion trigger ban passes House committee

Feb 20, 2024, 5:57 PM | Updated: 6:54 pm

SALT LAKE CITY — A Utah bill aimed at simplifying legal questions surrounding Utah’s near-total abortion ban cleared a House committee Tuesday, though opponents accused Republicans of trying to impact ongoing litigation.

HB560, introduced by House Majority Whip Karianne Lisonbee, R-Clearfield, on Thursday, would repeal parts of a bill passed last year that effectively bars elective abortion clinics from operating in the state. The clinic ban was placed on hold last year after the Planned Parenthood Association of Utah sued over the law.

A judge granted a preliminary injunction, halting the clinic ban while the courts continue to weigh its constitutionality. Utah’s trigger abortion ban was similarly paused in 2022 shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.

Lisonbee’s bill “repeals all of the language that’s currently enjoined,” she told KSL TV, in an effort to simplify the questions before the courts, as lawmakers await a ruling on whether the abortion ban is constitutional.

The Utah Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case in August 2023, but have yet to issue a ruling.

“We hoped that it would have been decided by now. It hasn’t been. And so this bill is an attempt in consultation with many attorneys to remove the enjoined sections in code so that we can get to the question of whether our trigger ban is constitutional,” Lisonbee said.

Because the clinic ban is on hold, she said the bill would have no immediate impact on access to abortion in the state. The procedure is currently available to women through 18 weeks of pregnancy.

While the bill is intended to allow the courts to focus solely on the abortion ban, Lisonbee said she believes the courts will ultimately rule in the state’s favor.

“I’m not sure that makes it more likely,” she said of the bill. “I do have every confidence that the trigger ban will be upheld, but I think that it does simplify.”

Public discussion on the bill during a House Judiciary Committee meeting Tuesday morning focused largely on the underlying policy of abortion access, with representatives from Pro-Life Utah and the Utah Eagle Forum speaking in favor of attempts to limit access to the procedure.

“As we wait for a … ruling from the courts, over 5,000 unborn babies have died from brutal and horrific abortion procedures,” said Mary Taylor, president of Pro-Life Utah. “We cannot continue to wait. HB560 simplifies the lawsuit that’s holding up the implementation of Utah’s duly enacted abortion trigger law and has the potential to save countless unborn babies.”

Shireen Ghorbani, chief corporate affairs officer for Planned Parenthood Associated of Utah, said the organization is “not in favor or against” the bill, but expressed concern about the ongoing legislation focused on restricting abortion access.

“The patients who sought abortion last year in Utah, they deserve to live in a state that doesn’t have constant chaos around this issue,” she told the committee. “The cycle of writing and repealing laws only feeds the uncertainty that these patients face and makes us a more dangerous state for people who are trying to have families.”

She said removing the ban on clinics is a good thing, but expressed frustration at all the changes.

“So, this is a really important question for our legislators,” she told KSL TV. “Are they trying to influence court decisions, which then suggest that there’s really that interplay between our judicial and our legislative branch.”

HB560 ultimately passed through committee on a party-line vote of 9-2. It now advances to the House floor. With less than two weeks remaining in the 2024 legislative session, the bill must clear both chambers of the Legislature before midnight on March 1.

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Bill to ‘simplify’ lawsuit over Utah’s abortion trigger ban passes House committee