EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been updated to more clearly reflect which facilities are allowed to perform abortions.
SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) — Gov. Spencer Cox has signed into law a bill that takes a more comprehensive look at which facilities and personnel may perform abortions in the state of Utah.
HB 467, which drew around 20 sponsors in the Utah Legislature this session, was signed into law this afternoon, March 15, and prohibits licensing of new abortion clinics after May 2 of this year. All Utah abortion clinics that are not broader medical facilities will be forced to close on Jan. 1, 2024, or when their licenses expire, whichever comes first. However, the law also seems to tie the hands of employees of those clinics in the meantime.
While the law would force most abortions to be performed by medical personnel in an actual hospital, some clinics may still be able to provide legal abortions provided they meet the same guidelines and levels of safety a hospital provides.
The lengthy law also defines what medical emergencies could lead to a legal abortion, defines what a fetus is under Utah law, and prohibits abortions due to rape or incest if the fetus has reached 18 weeks of age, among other definitions. It also regulates drugs commonly used in abortions.
The law will go after medical personnel and/or midwife-type personnel, preventing them from performing abortions and labeling such actions as “unprofessional conduct,” regardless of whether or not the personnel are found guilty of any crime.
The bill has faced stiff opposition from the Planned Parenthood Association of Utah and the American Civil Liberties Union. Planned Parenthood operates three clinics in the state.
“Nothing in this bill makes abortions in Utah safer, more affordable, or more accessible for the thousands of Utahns who need this essential health care each year,” said Karrie Galloway, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Association of Utah. “It has one goal: put abortion out of reach for as many Utahns as possible no matter what their faith, family, and trusted medical providers decide is best for their safety and health.”
Planned Parenthood has brought a 2020 abortion law to court, and that law is currently on hold pending that legal challenge. However, all abortions after 18 weeks are effectively still banned in Utah.
The Associated Press reported that in 2022, 61% of abortions in Utah included medications instead of surgery. Abortion access proponents argued abortions were no different than other kinds of specialty care that have increasingly moved to clinic settings. They say providers are more accustomed to recurring patient concerns and confronting complications that may arise.
ABC4 has reached out to Planned Parenthood for comment, and we will update this post upon response.
What does the new law change?
A lot of the new law tightens language passed in previous abortion trigger laws passed in 2019 and 2020.
The new law specifically defines an abortion as: “[T]he act, by a physician, of using an instrument, or prescribing a drug, with the intent to cause the death of an unborn child of a woman known to be pregnant.”
“Medical emergency” is defined as “[L]ife threatening physical condition aggravated by, caused by, or arising from a pregnancy that places the pregnant woman at risk of death, or poses a serious risk of substantial impairment of a major bodily function, unless the abortion is performed or induced.”
For doctors to perform an abortion, they have to find that the fetus has an abnormality that is “incompatible with life,” and will be required to notify the mother that perinatal hospice and perinatal palliative care are available as an alternative to abortion. If the fetus is under 18 weeks and the mother is a victim of rape, or incest, or is under the age of 14, doctors may perform the procedure.
If physicians stray outside those rules, they can be in violation of “professional conduct” standards, as laid out by the new law.
The law also bans drugs like methotrexate, misoprostol, and mifepristone (mifexprex) for use in any abortion procedure outside of a doctor’s care, making it illegal to get those drugs off, say, the internet.
Any other person who intentionally causes the death of an unborn child will be in violation of the law.