This article was originally published in Pregnancy Help News on March 24, 2023 and is reprinted here with permission.
On Wednesday, March 15, 2023, Utah Governor Spencer Cox signed a bill into law that effectively bans abortion clinics from operating in the state.
A 2019 law already banned abortions after 18 weeks unless the child was not viable, abortion was needed to save the life or health of the mother, the pregnancy was a result of rape or incest, or two physicians determined the child to have a lethal defect or severe brain abnormality. However, H.B. 467, passed along party lines in the state legislature earlier this month and recently signed by Governor Cox, will amend the current law in multiple ways.
Effectively bans abortion facilities
Under H.B. 467, abortion facilities will either close by the end of the year or whenever their license expires, whichever comes first after May 2, 2023, when the Utah Department of Health and Human Services will no longer be allowed to grant or renew licenses for abortion facilities.
Additionally, after the end of the year, all abortions will have to take place in a hospital rather than at abortion facilities to ensure optimal safety. This move comes after years of women leaving abortion facilities maimed, injured, or sometimes even dead due to botched procedures, lax or inadequate safety protocols, and sometimes a lack of hospital admitting privileges.
Modifies definitions for maternal medical emergency and fetal defects
H.B. 467 also shortens the definition of what constitutes a medical emergency under the exception regarding the mother’s life.
The exception now reads, “‘Medical emergency’ means life-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.”
The current law, which H.B. 467 amends, originally defined a medical emergency as a “condition that which, on the basis of the physician’s good faith clinic judgment, so threatens the life of a pregnant woman as to necessitate the immediate abortion of her pregnancy to avert her death, or for which a delay will create serious risk of substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function.”
Although the language of this exception has been updated, abortion to save the life or health of the mother will remain legal even after 18 weeks.
Additionally, the new law amends the language relating to the medical defects of a fetus. H.B. 467 states abortion is allowed after 18 weeks “if two physicians who practice maternal-fetal medicine concur, in writing, in the patient’s medical record that the fetus has a fetal abnormality that the physician’s responsible medical judgment is incompatible with life.”
Previously the 2019 law included “or has a defect that is uniformly diagnosable and uniformly lethal or has a severe brain abnormality that is uniformly diagnosable.” Still, that language has been removed under H.B. 467 to further limit the situations under which a mother can undergo an abortion after 18 weeks.
Updates rape and incest exceptions
The language surrounding fetal defects and medical emergencies is not the only update in this law. Under the new law, abortion for rape or incest will no longer be allowed after 18 weeks, whereas the 2019 legislation allowed it past 18 weeks under this exception.
However, while the new law closes the window for the rape and incest exception, it now allows individuals who become pregnant under any circumstances but are under the age of 14 to have the same access to abortion as rape or incest victims, where they can acquire the procedure up to 18 weeks.
Requires better-informed consent regarding life-limiting diagnoses
Although H.B. 467 allows abortion even after 18 weeks if the child is determined to be “incompatible with life,” this new law requires all physicians who provide this diagnosis to inform the woman at the time of diagnosis both verbally and in writing that perinatal hospice and palliative care services are available as an alternative to abortion.
This newly included measure will hopefully show mothers carrying children with life-limiting diagnoses that they do not have to feel pressured into abortion.
Regulates abortion drugs
H.B. 467 also establishes limitations on prescribing “abortion-related drugs” such as methotrexate, misoprostol, mifepristone, and RU-486.
Under the new provision, no one can prescribe an abortion-related drug to cause an abortion unless they are a licensed physician in Utah. This section also establishes criminal penalties if this section of the law is violated, where those found guilty will face a class B misdemeanor.
This was not previously mentioned in the 2019 law and will help prevent patients from being prescribed abortion pills through out-of-state tele-abortion networks.
Overall, under H.B. 467, abortion will only be legal in Utah after 18 weeks if required to save the life or health of the mother or the child has been determined by two maternal fetal medicine doctors to be “incompatible with life,” and all abortions will be required to be performed in a hospital rather than an abortion facility after January 1, 2024.
Additionally, H.B. 467 will also ensure stronger protections regulating who can prescribe the abortion pill regimen and that mothers are informed of abortion alternatives when receiving a life-limiting diagnosis for their babies.
Last year, most abortions in Utah took place in abortion facilities, and of the 2,818 abortions, 61% were medication abortions. Therefore, this law has the potential to help save a significant number of babies and safeguard more women from the physical and psychological harms of abortion.
While the law isn’t perfect, pro-life advocates view it as a great step forward for the state, with organizations like Pro-Life Utah posting, “Thank you, Governor Cox for signing this bill into law! We value your commitment to protect the pre-born.”