Utah Bill Criminalizing Illegal Abortions Sparks Debate

A bill in Utah that would criminalize illegal abortions currently awaits the signature or veto of Gov. Gary R. Herbert.

Passed by the state Senate last month, the measure could bring charges of criminal homicide if a woman induces a miscarriage or obtains an illegal abortion.

The bill has drawn fire from abortion advocates who say the language of the bill could lead to the prosecution of even "well-intentioned" women.

"Aside from a few narrowly defined exceptions, including failure to comply with medical advice, refusal to submit to a physician's recommended treatment, and negligence (which in legal terms is apparently a less serious crime than recklessness), the law holds women accountable for criminal homicide if they intentionally, knowingly or recklessly 'cause the death of another human being, including an unborn child at any stage of its development,' outside the parameters of legal abortion," states a petition that asks the governor to veto the bill.

"As Utah's ACLU wrote in a letter to Utah's governor in protest of the law, 'If this bill is signed into law, women in this state will essentially be in the uncomfortable and unfortunate position of having to prove that the abortions they obtain (or miscarriages they suffer) are not unlawful.' In effect, women suffering the trauma of losing a baby they desired could end up facing the double trauma of being charged with causing the baby's death."

Opponents of the bill say pregnant women who fail to wear a seat-belt and suffers a miscarriage after getting into a car accident could be charged for criminal homicide.

National Advocates for Pregnant Women also argues that "once the state has the power to decide what a women's 'intent' is, it does not really matter what her intent actually is."

The measure was introduced by Rep. Carl D. Wimmer in response to an incident last May when a 17-year-old girl who was seven months pregnant paid a man to beat her up to induce a miscarriage.

Her tactic, however, failed and her baby was born in August. She was charged with attempted murder but the charges were dropped when the judge determined that she was seeking an abortion, which is not illegal. Under Utah law, a woman can not be prosecuted for attempting to arrange an abortion.

Herbert indicated his support for the bill's goals but said he is still studying the particulars, according to The New York Times.

The bill does not affect legal abortions performed by a doctor.

Meanwhile, one pro-life group disagrees with the bill in that it doesn't allow for abortion in one case but allows for it in another. American Life League vice president Jim Sedlak told The New York Times that the governor should send the bill back and that the state Legislature should address "the real problem of personhood in the womb."