Utah Hasn’t Figured Out How to Legally Ban Abortion, So It’s Banning Clinics Instead

The state's abortion ban is tied up in court. That won't stop Utah Republicans.

Utah Hasn’t Figured Out How to Legally Ban Abortion, So It’s Banning Clinics Instead
Photo:Elizabeth Frantz for The Washington Post (Getty Images)

On Wednesday, a gross, workaround way to restrict abortion became law in Utah: In 2024, Utah will ban all abortion clinics, according to a bill Utah Gov. Spencer Cox (R) signed.

Additionally, though abortion is currently legal up to 18 weeks in the state, starting May 3, the state will no longer license new abortion clinics. And even before the 2024 ban kicks in, the new law requires that an abortion be performed by a physician in a hospital, unless a “medical emergency” necessitates another location. This means that May-to-January limbo period could effectively end abortion access in Utah if hospitals aren’t prepared to take over.

Abortion advocates and hospital representatives say the legislation has created confusion in the state, as Utah hospitals allow physicians to decline to provide abortions. Nationally, only 3 percent of abortions are done in hospitals, according to the Guttmacher Institute. Zero hospitals in Utah provided patients with “elective abortions” last year, the Associated Press reported.

In an interview with the AP, Jason Stevenson, a Planned Parenthood lobbyist in Utah, said the organization is “looking closely” at the law’s interpretation of licensing to see if they’re allowed to keep providing care before May 3. Independent clinics and Planned Parenthood affiliates provide surgical and medication abortion in Utah.

“Instead of working to make health care more accessible, reliable, and affordable, Utah politicians have enacted a law that only creates more uncertainty, chaos, and confusion for patients—all to circumvent the judicial process in the name of their anti-abortion crusade,” Karrie Galloway, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Association of Utah, said in a statement. “This dangerous law will have a devastating impact on our communities and harm those who already have the most difficulty accessing basic health care.”

Cox was expected to sign this bill, but that didn’t make it sting any less. In February, the governor—who, on a national level, is mostly known for how little he cares about trans kids—called this bill a “cleanup” of the state’s pre-Roe v. Wade trigger ban that’s currently tied up in court.

Cox also told the Salt Lake Tribune that signing the bill was always going to happen. “It doesn’t matter [what’s in the 1,400-plus line bill]. I’ll be signing the bill,” he told the newspaper.

And so he did.

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