Pro-lifers are celebrating in Utah, as the state’s abortion rate has dropped to its lowest level in modern times. Among other measures, Utah is the only state in the nation to require a 72-hour abortion waiting period, and some, including Carol Tobias, president of National Right to Life, cite the law as the primary cause of this decrease.
Utah’s abortion rate fell to 4.6 abortions per 1,000 women in 2013, down from a high of 11.1 in 1980 and 7.2 in 1975, according to the Utah Department of Health. Some 2,893 women in the state had abortions in 2013, even though the population of women in their childbearing years has doubled since 1977.
Utah had an anti-abortion law on its books from 1876 to 1973, when the territorial government made it a crime punishable by two to 10 years in prison to induce a miscarriage in a pregnant woman through use of any medicine, drug, substance or other means unless done to save her life. The landmark Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade demolished that law, effectively making abortion-on-demand the law of the land.
In defiance, the Utah Legislature passed an act just weeks after the Roe v. Wade decision was handed down. The act allowed abortion only when necessary to save the life of the mother or to prevent serious damage to her health, and required judicial hearings before all abortions as well as consent by the father.
In August 1973, a three-judge panel in Salt Lake City’s U.S. District Court struck down that law as unconstitutional, citing Roe v. Wade.
Undaunted, the state legislature attempted again and again to pass more restrictive abortion laws, despite the fact that they were continuously struck down by the federal courts. After a series of failures, Utah lawmakers adopted an incremental approach, with legislation that slowly narrowed and refined restrictions while focusing on a fetus as a living being. For instance, women seeking an abortion are now asked to watch a video that shows a fetal heartbeat at various stages of pregnancy, and are also informed about state support and adoption options.
Along with being the only state with a 72-hour waiting period, it is one of only five states that require parental consent before a minor may receive an abortion, and one of nine states that require pre-abortion counseling be done in person.
As a result, NARAL Pro-Choice America gave Utah an “F” grade in January 2013 because of its restrictive abortion laws. State Rep. Paul Ray (R-Clearfield) said that means Utah is “sitting pretty good,” adding that he would “take that as an ‘A’ for our efforts to protect unborn children.”
Pro-choice representatives are refusing to give credit to Utah’s restrictive abortion laws for the decline in abortions. Karrie Galloway, director of Planned Parenthood of Utah, attributed the drop to greater contraceptive use and also said that tight finances could have increased family planning. “I don’t think they can draw those conclusions,” she said.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome