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Utah lawmakers threaten abortion providers with prosecution even with trigger law blocked

Abortion protest Utah
Posted at 4:58 PM, Sep 15, 2022
and last updated 2022-09-18 11:57:51-04

SALT LAKE CITY — Two dozen state lawmakers have threatened Utah abortion providers with prosecution, despite a judge's order blocking the state's anti-abortion "trigger law" from going into effect.

The cease-and-desist letters were sent to Planned Parenthood of Utah, the Wasatch Women's Center, the ACLU of Utah, the National Abortion Federation and others, warning them that doctors could still face criminal prosecutions in the future for performing abortions now. A judge in Salt Lake City's 3rd District Court granted a restraining order against the state, blocking its near-total abortion ban from being enforced while the case is litigated.

The Utah Attorney General's Office has appealed the decision to a higher court.

"The injunction merely restrains the named defendants in that case from initiating criminal prosecutions against you while the injunction remains in effect," warned the letter sent by the lawmakers. "It does not shield you or your colleagues at Planned Parenthood from future prosecution or punishment for the abortions that you are currently performing if the preliminary injunction is vacated or reversed on appeal."

The lawmakers also threaten more bills in the 2023 session to go after doctors who have continued to perform elective abortions while the injunction has been in place.

"This legislation will require state licensing officials to revoke the professional licenses of anyone who performed or assisted an abortion in violation of section 76-7a-201 or federal law, regardless of whether they did so in reliance on Judge Stone’s preliminary injunction. It will also empower the Attorney General, as well as district attorneys from throughout the state, to prosecute abortion-related crimes — including violations of section 76-7a-201— whenever the local district attorney fails or refuses to do so," the letter states. "The bill will also prohibit abortion providers and their accomplices from invoking Judge Stone’s preliminary injunction as a defense to criminal prosecution or civil sanctions if that injunction is vacated or reversed on appeal. Finally, this proposed legislation will eliminate any statutes of limitations that currently apply to section 76-7a- 201 or other abortion-related crimes."

In a statement, lawmakers accused abortion providers of "flouting" Utah's laws while the injunction is in place.

"The legislature will ensure that anyone who violates the laws of our state is held accountable for their criminal acts. Anyone who is performing or assisting abortions in violation of our statutes must immediately stop or face future criminal prosecution," said Rep. Karianne Lisonbee, R-Clearfield, in the statement.

Planned Parenthood Association of Utah suggested in a statement the effort was a "stunt."

"Our lawyers are reviewing the letter, but this appears to be a stunt to further harass abortion providers and stigmatize patients who need care," CEO Karrie Galloway said. "PPAU is providing abortion care in full compliance with current law and always has. We are here for our patients and will continue to do everything we can to make sure all Utahns can get the health care they need."

The ACLU of Utah also did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

On Friday, the lawmakers acknowledged in a separate statement that their letter had no legal force and was merely their "opinion" on things.

"We want to clarify that the press release and letter we issued was not a legal analysis from the Utah Office of Legislative Research and General Counsel but our opinion and the opinion of the legislators who signed it," Reps. Lisonbee and Kera Birkeland, R-Morgan, wrote. "While we are incredibly disappointed with the judge's ruling to stay enforcement of S.B. 174, we respect the law and process. We will continue to do everything we can to protect the most vulnerable - the unborn - and support women and families."

Read the letter here: