Planned Parenthood of Utah takes legal action in attempt to block state’s abortion ban

Photo: Gephardt Daily/Patrick Benedict

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah, June 26, 2022 (Gephardt Daily) — The Planned Parenthood Association of Utah (PPAU) has filed suit in Salt Lake County’s Third District Court in an attempt to block implementation of Utah’s newly enacted “trigger law,” which, as of Friday night, criminalized abortion, with rare exceptions for women living in the Beehive State.

The lawsuit was filed Saturday by the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah, along with counsel from the Salt Lake City law firm Zimmerman Booher and attorneys from Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

Gov. Spencer Cox and Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes were named in the legal action, as was Mark Steinagel, director of the Utah Division of Occupational Services and
Professional Licensing. Each was named in their official capacities.

According to a statement by the ACLU, “the Utah Constitution protects pregnant Utahns’ rights to determine when and whether to have a family, and to determine what happens with their own bodies and lives. The suit makes clear that the rights promised under the Utah Constitution are more expansive than those under federal law, and remain unaffected by the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision,” the ACLU said.

“Should the trigger ban remain in effect, thousands of Utahns will be forced to either carry an unwanted or dangerous pregnancy to term or travel out of state to obtain abortion care. The law includes only narrow exceptions, and its exception for sexual assault survivors forces the disclosure of patients’ personal information to law enforcement as a condition of care.

“In addition to banning abortion, the law would also criminalize health care providers, threatening arrest and criminal fines for providing abortion care,” the ACLU statement said.

Karrie Galloway, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Association of Utah, released a statement Saturday saying the U.S. Supreme Court had eliminated a federal constitutional right. “In one terrible moment, Roe v. Wade was overturned, and Utahns’ power to control their own bodies, lives, and personal medical decisions was threatened. Yesterday’s decision was devastating, but Planned Parenthood will never stop standing with and fighting for the rights of our patients and providers. Not now, not ever,” Galloway said.

The trigger law went into effect Friday night, just hours after the morning announcement the U.S. Supreme Court had reversed the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, which made abortion legal across the country.

The reversal returned the power over abortions to state lawmakers, 13 of which, including Utah, had already fashioned so-called “trigger laws” designed to outlaw or greatly restrict abortion rights.

In 2020, the Utah Legislature adopted Senate Bill 174, the Criminal Abortion Ban, which bars abortion at any point in pregnancy with three limited exceptions. Basically, those exceptions are if the woman’s life is at significant risk, if the fetus has a severely deformed brain or a condition that will be lethal, or the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest.

The lawsuit argues that forcing Utah women to carry unwanted pregnancies to term “will be dangerous to their health, will increase their chances of death, will damage their work and economic futures, and will likely increase the chances that they and their existing children live a life of poverty with limited future options to thrive.”

The lawsuit

“Performing an abortion in Utah is now a second-degree felony in nearly all cases,” the PPAU lawsuit says. “Abortion providers and other staff who assist in the performance of an abortion risk a prison term of one to 15 years per abortion, as well as criminal fines. In addition, providers risk licensing and other professional penalties.”

In the most recent year for which statewide data exists “there were 2,776 abortions obtained by Utahns in this state,” the lawsuit claimed. “Yet, under the Criminal Abortion Ban, patients wishing to have an abortion at any point in pregnancy are unable to do so in Utah except in the narrowest of circumstances enumerated in the Act.

Alleged consequences

“If left in place, the Criminal Abortion Ban will be catastrophic for Utahns,” the lawsuit says. “The Act will force some Utahns seeking abortion to instead carry pregnancies to term against their will, with all of the physical, emotional, and financial costs that entails.

“Some Utahns will inevitably turn to self-managed abortion by buying pills or other items online and outside the U.S. health care system, which may in some cases be unsafe. And even Utahns who are ultimately able to obtain an abortion, either because they have been able to scrape together resources to travel out of state or because they meet one of the ban’s narrow exceptions, will suffer grave harm,” the suit says.

Danger to women

The lawsuit says that any pregnancy causes symptoms that can include “a quicker heart rate, a substantial rise in their blood volume, digestive difficulties, increased production of clotting factors, significant weight gain, changes to their breathing, and a growing uterus. These and other changes increase a pregnant patient’s risk of blood clots, nausea, hypertensive disorders, anemia, and other complications.

“Pregnancy can also exacerbate preexisting health conditions, including diabetes, obesity, autoimmune disorders, and other pulmonary disease. It can lead to the development of new and serious health conditions as well, such as hyperemesis gravidarum, preeclampsia, deep vein thrombosis, and gestational diabetes.”

Many people seek emergency care at least once during a pregnancy, the statement says, “and people with co-morbidities (either preexisting or those that develop as a result of their pregnancy) are significantly more likely to seek emergency care.

In addition, “Pregnancy can also induce or exacerbate mental health conditions,” the lawsuit says.

“Mental health risks can be higher for patients with unintended pregnancies, who may face physical and emotional changes and risks that they did not choose to take on.”

In Utah, nearly 20% of pregnancies are unintended, “and this percentage is much higher for Utahns who are Black or Hispanic/Latino,” according to the lawsuit.

“Some pregnant patients also face an increased risk of intimate partner violence, with the severity of that violence sometimes escalating during or after pregnancy.”

According to the UUPA lawsuit, the risk of mortality from pregnancy and childbirth is more than 12 times greater than for legal abortion.

Women who seek but are denied an abortion, when compared to those who are able to access abortion, are “more likely to lower their future goals, and less likely to be able to exit abusive relationships,” the suit says. “Their existing children are also more likely to suffer measurable reductions in achievement of child developmental milestones and an increased chance of living in poverty.”

The lawsuit also states women denied abortions “are also less likely to be employed full-time, more likely to be raising children alone, more likely to receive public assistance, and more likely to not have enough money to meet basic living needs.”


The lawsuit asks the court to declare the Criminal Abortion Ban invalid because it “violates Plaintiff’s and its patients’ constitutional rights under the Utah Constitution.”

The lawsuit also asks for a temporary restraining order to stop the enforcement of the Act along with “preliminary and permanent injunctions prohibiting Defendants and their officers, employees, servants, agents, appointees, or successors from administering, preparing for, and enforcing the Act with respect to any abortion provided during the temporary and permanent injunctions.”

Planned Parent Association of Utah says it filed the suit “on behalf of itself and its patients, physicians, and staff.”

The state had no immediate response to the lawsuit’s filing.


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