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Utah Becomes First State To Implement 72-Hour Waiting Period Before Abortion Care

May 9, 2012 — On Tuesday, a Utah law (HB 461) took effect that requires women seeking abortion care to wait 72 hours before having the procedure, giving the state the longest waiting period in the country, the Salt Lake Tribune reports (Harrie, Salt Lake Tribune, 5/7). A South Dakota law mandating a 72-hour waiting period has been put on hold by a federal judge.

The Utah law requires 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, but the law does not provide an exemption for nonviable pregnancies.

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 (Women's Health Policy Report, 5/8).

Although opponents of the Utah law have not ruled out a lawsuit, Planned Parenthood Association of Utah Director Karrie Galloway noted that "the reality of doing a legal challenge is daunting -- the cost and time, all of that."

PPAU will be monitoring how the law affects patients and providers, Galloway said. The law's language does not designate anyone to oversee compliance or write rules explaining what is required under the statute. "We're left with a system that right now puts the burden -- in fact a possible criminal burden -- on the physician providing the procedure with no verifiable process for confirming the informed consent," Galloway said.

Rep. Steve Eliason (R), the bill's sponsor, said enforcement and oversight would be the same as it is under the current law.

However, Nan Streeter, a deputy director at the state Department of Health, said the agency's attorney has confirmed the law gives it no authority "to either enforce or oversee the consent process." Streeter said that "the only authority the Department of Health has is related to development of the abortion consent materials" (Salt Lake Tribune, 5/7).

Columnist Suggests Other Decisions That Should Have a 72-Hour Waiting Period

Salt Lake Tribune columnist Robert Kirby writes that supporters of the waiting period supposedly think it "give[s] abortion shoppers time to think and become fully informed before they make their purchase." He adds, "Like they haven't already been doing that since the moment they found out they were pregnant."

Kirby continues, "With this sort of logic, there are all sorts of things for which the government should require a 72-hour waiting period," such as waiting 72 hours before going to church every week or waiting 72 hours to have sex after deciding to try to conceive. He also suggests a three-day waiting period for buying a pet, eating a meal with more than 1,000 calories, buying a cell phone or making other decisions (Kirby, Salt Lake Tribune, 5/7).