March 22, 2012 — Utah Gov. Gary Herbert (R) on Tuesday signed into law a bill (HB 461) that will extend the waiting period for women seeking abortion care to 72 hours, the Salt Lake Tribune reports. The law will take effect May 7, giving the state the longest waiting period in the nation. A similar law mandating a 72-hour waiting period in South Dakota has been put on hold by a federal judge.
Currently, women must wait 24 hours before an abortion in Utah (Gehrke, Salt Lake Tribune, 3/20). Herbert "felt the bill appropriately allows a woman who's facing that decision to fully weigh her options and the implications of that decision," Ally Isom, a spokesperson for the governor, said (Dobuzinskis, Reuters/Chicago Tribune, 3/20).
According to the Salt Lake Tribune, the law will require women to wait 72 hours after a face-to-face consultation, in which they are told about the fetus' development and given information about options other than abortion. Doctors would be permitted to bypass the waiting period if an abortion is necessary to prevent an infection.
The law does not provide an exemption for nonviable pregnancies, noted Marina Lowe, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah. "It's just sort of cruel to tell a woman that" she has to carry a nonviable pregnancy for three more days, Lowe said, adding, "It also raises the question of: What is the state's interest in requiring a woman to wait 72 hours if there's no chance of the pregnancy resulting in a baby?" (Salt Lake Tribune, 3/20).
The Utah measure differs from the South Dakota law in that the Utah waiting period starts after a consultation with any health professional, whereas South Dakota requires the consultation to be with an abortion provider. Isom expressed confidence that the Utah law could withstand a court challenge (Reuters/Chicago Tribune, 3/20).