Utah judge to rule next week on state abortion clinic ban

·3 min read

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The Planned Parenthood Association of Utah argued in court on Friday that a ban on abortion clinics would “functionally eliminate” abortion access if implemented next week when it's scheduled to begin taking effect.

After hearing arguments from attorneys representing Utah and abortion providers, state court judge Andrew Stone said he planned to rule next week on Planned Parenthood’s motion requesting the law be delayed.

Planned Parenthood argued that the clinic ban was a backdoor strategy from Utah to further restrict abortion while legal challenges to a 2020 trigger law make their way through the court system. Utah rebuffed those arguments and said abortion clinics could reapply to be licensed as hospitals under the new framework. The state's attorneys said the court had little grounds to overrule a law passed and signed by elected officials.

Amid conflicting interpretations of when abortion clinics will lose their licenses under the law, Planned Parenthood said they would be forced to stop providing abortions when provisions of the law begin on May 3. They operate three of the four clinics in Utah that provide abortions.

"There are no other alternatives if these clinics are shut down," said Sarah Stoesz, the president and CEO of the group's Utah affiliate. “Hospitals have not stepped forward to say that they will take the care that licensed abortion clinics provide.”

The ban on clinics is Utah lawmakers' latest effort to restrict abortions and comes less than a year after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. That decision triggered two previously passed laws — a 2019 ban on abortion after 18 weeks and a 2020 ban on abortions regardless of trimester, with several exceptions including instances of risk to maternal health as well as rape or incest reported to the police.

The state Planned Parenthood affiliate sued over the 2020 ban. Last July, a judge delayed implementing it until legal challenges could be resolved. The 18-week ban has since been de facto law.

If the clinic ban takes effect, the delicensing of clinics will transition most abortions to hospitals, which generally do not specialize in low-cost outpatient abortions, including providing the abortion pill. In Utah, clinics provide 95% of abortions.

The law is set to take effect next Wednesday, at which time abortion clinics will no longer be able to apply to be licensed. It would institute a full ban on Jan. 1, 2024, by stripping all clinics of their licenses.

Though state officials have said clinic licenses will remain until then, Planned Parenthood has warned that it reads the law differently and fears exposing clinicians to legal liability and make providing abortions a crime. They have said that, absent intervention, they plan to stop providing abortions at their clinics.

The clinic-centered push in Utah is unique among states with trigger laws, where many abortion clinics closed after last year’s Supreme Court decision. Clinics were shuttered in states such as West Virginia and Mississippi in the aftermath, yet they remain open in Utah while courts deliberate. The measure mirrors a raft of proposals passed in red states in the decade before Roe was overturned when anti-abortion lawmakers passed measures regulating clinics, including the size of procedure rooms and distances from hospitals.

Sam Metz, The Associated Press