A controversial anti-abortion bill, which assuredly would be challenged in court if passed by the Utah Legislature, will be changed slightly to give it a better chance of legal success.
Rep. Cheryl Acton, R-West Jordan, told an open House GOP caucus meeting Tuesday that she will modify her HB136 from outlawing an abortion (with a few exemptions) from 15 weeks to 18 weeks.
Her original bill is currently being held in the House Judiciary Committee and has not yet had a hearing.
Acton, who said until she started looking at abortion in Utah and the U.S. she really didn’t pay much attention to the issue, said a bill now in the Arkansas Legislature would outlaw abortions after 18 weeks.
And by mimicking that time frame, should her bill pass, and get a federal court challenge, the new laws would be in two different federal court appeal jurisdictions.
That duality would give both measures a better chance of making it to the U.S. Supreme Court – as a legal strategy.
But Action still faces opposition from various legislators because of the possible cost to Utah taxpayers.
Officially, HB136’s fiscal note shows no cost. That is because such fiscal notes only try to determine the cost to state and local governments directly.
Action said GOP Attorney General Sean Reyes’ office would undertake the defense of Utah’s stricter abortion law with current in house attorneys. Thus, no cost to taxpayers.
However, historically, when states lose challenges to the high court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade landmark abortion legalization ruling, the attorneys’ fees of groups suing the new abortion law – upon defeat – must be paid by the losing side – in this case it would be Utah unless the Supreme Court upheld Acton’s law, which clearly would violate Roe v. Wade.
And that cost could be between $1 million and $3 million, Acton said.
It is clear that pro-choice groups would sue Utah if it passed Action’s bill.
Way back in the early 1990s, conservative legal scholars believed the then-constituted U.S. Supreme Court might be willing to overthrow Roe v. Wade, at least to greatly allow abortion-on-demand restrictions.
Utah did pass a more restrictive abortion law, with GOP legislators knowing it would be challenged – even welcoming the challenge.
However, the high court – ruling on a separate, more restrictive law from another state – basically struck down the new Utah law, then under appeal. Utah had to pay the attorney fees of the winning side, more than $1 million.
In fact, that law is still on Utah books – not being enforced by a court order – as conservative GOP lawmakers here have refused to repeal it.
The Utah Legislature, made up of GOP conservatives who oppose Roe v. Wade, have several times in the past refused to pass anti-abortion bills mainly because they didn’t want to pay the cost of such litigation.
By two-thirds vote back in 2007, the Utah House refused to pass an anti-abortion bill for just that fiscal issue.