SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) — The Utah Supreme Court heard arguments today over whether or not to overturn a lower court’s decision to place the state’s abortion trigger law on hold.

Planned Parenthood Association of Utah sued the state of Utah, claiming the trigger law was unconstitutional. In response, a Utah judge granted a preliminary injunction on the trigger law in June 2022. This means the state’s abortion trigger law (banning most abortions) has been put on hold pending the outcome of that injunction. If the Supreme Court overturns the lower court decision, Utah’s abortion laws, H.b. 467, and S.B. 174 will go into immediate effect.

The hearing, which took the majority of the court’s day, became very dense as both sides talked about case law, constitutional rights, historical precedents, and unintended consequences of protecting certain rights.

Below are the top takeaways from today’s hearing.

It’s not actually about abortion yet

The reason a lower court placed the injunction in the first place was that it considered there to be “serious issues” that needed to be grappled with before the law could be immediately allowed to take place. Today’s hearing wasn’t about whether abortion should be legal. It was whether or not the injunction should be removed.

While removing the injunction would immediately outlaw abortion in Utah, in most cases, both the state and Planned Parenthood agreed that the injunction was the main point of today’s hearing. That didn’t stop justices from walking through the possible ramifications of the legality of abortion.

A large portion of what the court has to deal with is not only what the Utah Constitution allows or doesn’t allow, but what the framers may or may not have intended. The state’s constitution was ratified in 1896, which both sides admitted was a very different time for relations between the genders than it is today.

The State: It’s about the people’s vote

The State of Utah argued that a ban on abortion in Beehive State actually predates the founding of the state itself. Abortion was illegal in territorial times and remained so until Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973.

Prosecutors stated Utah has “an unbroken history and tradition” prior to 1973, and noted that voters decided on the abortion ban. They argued legislators, who are representing the people, passed a law, and changes to that law should be made through the legislative process, not in the court.

The court, however, pointed to other situations in history, such as the marriage of interracial couples, which was once illegal. There were also questions about the ratification of Utah’s Constitution, which had public input from women at the time, though no women were represented in the Constitutional Convention. While Utah women did have the right to vote before most women in America, that right was eventually taken away by the federal government before being restored by the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1920.

Planned Parenthood: It’s about equal rights

Planned Parenthood’s main argument is that without access to abortion, women face challenges that men cannot. One PPAU Attorney argued that women who carry a pregnancy to term are 12x more likely to face medical problems than women who undergo “safe, legal and routine” medical procedures to end pregnancies. They said women who carry to term face problems in the workplace, are removed from political processes while pregnant, and therefore, are under undue pressure that men are not subject to.

On top of that, carrying a pregnancy to term carries physical risks, and they argued that forcing women to carry a baby to term they don’t want places their lives in jeopardy, which again, does not happen to men. The terms “bodily integrity” and “bodily autonomy” were thrown around liberally by all members of the court.

Because Utah guarantees equal rights between the sexes, an abortion ban, effectively forces women into an unequal position that access to abortion could otherwise solve, one attorney stated.

Justices questioned whether or not Planned Parenthood could represent its patients in this way. They argued that PPUA would face harm as an organization if the ban were allowed to be put into place, both financially and in terms of reputation. Justices were concerned that PPUA intended to represent women in general, but they argued that any woman who would bring such a case to the court herself would likely be forced to give birth to the child before any court action could be settled.

Justices also pondered the unintended consequences of using equal rights laws to decide the fate of abortion. Would it open the door to physician-assisted suicide, for instance?

But it might not be about either of those things

While the court has not given a timeline as to when it would rule in this case, a large portion of the proceeding focused on what the court could actually achieve based on its legal powers. The main issue at hand is whether or not the lower court abused its discretion in granting the injunction in the first place. But ultimately, the legal system itself could affect the justices’ decisions.

Common law requires precedent — or past court rulings — to determine the court’s interpretation of the state constitution. To overturn precedent requires very specific legal burdens. On top of that, a legal analysis of the matter will require historical research as to the framers’ intent in making their original laws. It also depends on how the original voters of the law understood that law when it was passed. In some cases, that history may not be recorded or available.

Today’s hearing, which noted numerous previous cases that the public has likely never heard of, showed that even if Utahns may feel a certain way about abortion as a legal concept, the state’s own laws create a bed of thorns for even the most skilled officers of the court.