Judge Blocks Utah Ban on Abortions After 18 Weeks

(AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis, File)

(CN) – A federal judge blocked Utah from enforcing a recently passed ban on abortions after 18 weeks late Thursday, a law the Salt Lake City District Attorney’s office said it cannot legally enforce.

U.S. District Judge Clark Waddoups signed off on a stipulated preliminary injunction, agreed to by Planned Parenthood of Utah and the state. The move came hours after Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill said his office cannot enforce House Bill 136.

“Enforcement by my office of the criminal penalties included in HB136 would, in my view, run afoul of clearly established federal law,” said Gill in a statement. “My office will not commence any prosecution in connection with HB136’s 18-week abortion ban unless and until the Supreme Court of the United States or the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals reverses course and says it would be constitutional to do so.”

Planned Parenthood sued the Utah Department of Health in federal court on April 10 to block the law. Planned Parenthood previously led a successful lawsuit to overturn Utah’s 1991 ban on abortions after 22 weeks.

Under established law, Utah allows abortions until the fetus is determined to be viable, or “potentially able to live outside the womb.” The original bill as introduced earlier this year by Rep. Cheryl Acton, R-West Jordan, and Sen. Deidre Henderson, R-Spanish Fork, sought to ban abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy.

HB 136 was supposed to take effect in May. Karrie Galloway, president of the Planned Parenthood Association of Utah, said women will be able to seek abortions pending the conclusion of the lawsuit.

“We are extremely pleased with Judge Waddoups’ order protecting Utahns’ ability to access abortion care during the lawsuit. This means there will be no disruption in care for the Utah women seeking abortion services at or after 18 weeks,” Galloway said in a statement. “Every person deserves the right to decide whether and when to become a parent, and we will continue to fight to protect the constitutional rights of Utahns to access safe, legal abortion.” 

The group estimates 90% of abortions are performed within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, but said in its 12-page lawsuit that some patients seek abortions after 18 weeks for many reasons.

“Women, particularly those living in poverty or without insurance, may not be able to confirm their pregnancies, obtain options counseling, schedule an appointment, and make the logistical and financial arrangements (including time off work and childcare) to obtain an abortion for many weeks after they realize that they may be pregnant and decide to end the pregnancy,” Planned Parenthood says in its lawsuit

“Other patients obtain an abortion for medical reasons that do not arise until at or after 18 weeks, or because they are suffering from post-traumatic issues following rape or incest.”

Additional restrictions imposed by the state include barring private health insurance from covering the procedure and only allowing licensed facilities in Salt Lake City to perform abortions.

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert signed HB 136 into law on April 2.

The law would punish women who receive abortions after 18 weeks – if convicted of the second-degree felony – with between 1 and 15 years in prison. Under the law, both facilities and doctors could lose their licenses if caught performing abortions after 18 weeks.

The governor’s office did not respond immediately to a request for comment.

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