State of Utah Agrees to Order Temporarily Blocking Abortion Ban

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Salt Lake City, UT

The State agreed yesterday temporarily not to enforce its ban on abortions starting as early as 12 weeks of pregnancy.

A lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the new law was filed by the Center for Reproductive Rights on behalf of the lead plaintiff, the Utah Women's Clinic, on May 4. The clinic provides most of the second trimester abortions in the state, which would no longer be available under the ban.

"We're pleased that the state has agreed not to enforce this law for the time being to prevent harm to the health of women in Utah. We're ready to prove to the court that this law is unconstitutional and, if allowed to take effect, would have tragic health consequences," said Linda Rosenthal, attorney for the clinic.

The law, called a ban on "partial birth abortions," mirrors a recent law enacted by Congress late last year that is currently being challenged in California, New York and Nebraska, and a Virginia statute that was struck down by a federal district court in February. The broadly worded law would ban abortions early in the second trimester of pregnancy, starting at approximately 12 weeks, and it would prohibit abortions that are safe and medically necessary for women. Adding to its harmful impact, it makes no exception to protect a woman's health.

Moreover, doctors who violate the law would lose their licenses and risk up to five years imprisonment or a fine of $5,000 or both. The law also allows the woman's husband if she is married, or her parents if she is under 18, to bring a civil suit against the physician.

"Courts across the country-including the U.S. Supreme Court-have been clear that such bans are an unconstitutional threat to women's health and lives," said Nancy Northup, President of the Center for Reproductive Rights. The Center represented Dr. LeRoy Carhart in the Supreme Court case that struck down a similar abortion ban in Nebraska just four years ago. (See Stenberg v. Carhart) The Center is lead counsel in the current challenge to the federal ban in Nebraska as well as the challenge to the Virginia statute, and it has enjoined more than a dozen similar laws since 1995.

"Not only do these laws ignore what the Supreme Court already decided, but there is a federal law that already covers the same issues and that has been enjoined in three ongoing suits," said Northup. "The only effect I can see of such copycat legislation is to waste taxpayers' money."

The Utah Women's Clinic is represented by Linda A. Rosenthal and Priscilla J. Smith of the Center for Reproductive Rights and by Lauren Scholnick of Strindberg, Scholnick & Chamness in Salt Lake City. Planned Parenthood Association of Utah is also a plaintiff in the case.