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Utah Lawmaker Withdraws Bill To Charge Women Who Seek Illegal Abortions; Plans Revised Measure

Utah Lawmaker Withdraws Bill To Charge Women Who Seek Illegal Abortions; Plans Revised Measure

March 5, 2010 — Utah Rep. Carl Wimmer (R) on Thursday withdrew for revisions a bill (HB 12) that would have allowed sentences of up to life in prison for any woman whose fetus dies because of her intentional or reckless actions, the New York Times reports (Johnson, New York Times, 3/4). The legislation -- which had been sent to Gov. Gary Herbert (R) -- would have permitted criminal charges against women who seek illegal abortions, including self-inflicted attempts to end a pregnancy (Women's Health Policy Report, 3/1). Abortion-rights supporters argued that the bill's description of a "reckless act of the woman" could lead to a "witch hunt" environment in which every miscarriage could be subject to police investigation, the Times reports.

Wimmer said Thursday that he plans to introduce a revised bill that will not include the clause from his original bill allowing prosecution for a "reckless act of the woman." He plans to retain language that would classify a woman's "intentional" actions resulting in the death of a fetus as an illegal abortion and a felony. According to the Times, neither the original bill nor the revised legislation would affect legal abortions performed by a doctor. Utah already has several laws restricting access to abortion, including a parental consent requirement for minors, the Times reports.

Wimmer's bill was prompted by the 2009 case of a 17-year-old who was seven months pregnant and paid a man to beat her in an attempt to cause a miscarriage. Police arrested the teen, but charges against her were dropped after a judge ruled that seeking an abortion is not a crime (New York Times, 3/4). Wimmer has said the legislation is designed to close that "loophole" (Women's Health Policy Report, 3/1).

Herbert had not taken action on the original legislation. Angie Welling, a spokesperson for Herbert, said that the governor agrees with the bill's aims but "also believes very strongly that the state should not enact a law with unintended consequences" (New York Times, 3/4).