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This Bill Could Send Women Who Perform Their Own Abortions to Prison for 15 Years

The Utah bill passed the state's Republican-controlled Senate and is headed to a House floor vote.

by Carter Sherman
Mar 10 2020, 6:57pm

A Utah bill that aims to ban abortion could also make it a felony, punishable with prison time, for a woman to do her own procedure at home.

The legislation would outlaw almost all abortions in Utah only if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion nationwide in 1973. But if that happens, somebody who tries to administer an abortion, including their own, would be charged with a second-degree felony and could get sentenced to 15 years in prison and fined up to $10,000, Sen. Daniel McCay, the bill’s sponsor, said in a state House committee hearing Monday.

“So if she did go seek medical help, she would be guilty of a second-degree felony?” asked Rep. Marsha Judkins, a Republican.

“Potentially, yes,” said McCay, who’s also a Republican. McCay also pointed out that illegal abortions are already a second-degree felony in Utah.

While reliable statistics on people who induce their own abortions — or “self-manage” their abortions, as abortion rights advocates call it — is hard to come by, there is some evidence that the number of these abortions will rise as restrictions force clinics to close. (It can be safe to end a pregnancy without enlisting a provider’s direct supervision: The World Health Organization has designed a protocol, involving a drug called misoprostol, for people who are less than 12 weeks into pregnancy, which some abortion rights activists support.)

In a January study, researchers from the Texas Policy Evaluation Project found that almost 7% of Texan patients had tried to induce abortions on their own. In interviews with 18 women who’d done so, the researchers reported that the women were mostly motivated by their lack of access to money, transportation, and clinics.

Earlier in the House hearing, Republican Rep. Ray Ward, a doctor, wanted to know how McCay’s bill would address the possibility that more American women would die from unsafe abortions.

“Women die in pregnancy from unsafe abortions in countries that have this policy,” Ward said. “I worry that if we were to have this be our policy, that we would see a rise in maternal deaths from unsafe abortion.”

“None of those that have a similar policy to this have the advanced social services that we have as a country,” McCay replied, adding that Utah and the United States also have improved care for newborn children and mothers after birth.

But Ward had a follow-up question: “If a woman were to try to do an unsafe abortion — her or a friend — with some implement, and she got an infection or punctured the uterus, which one of our social services do you think would make that not create a potentially life-threatening complication for her?”

McCay said it depends on the woman’s income level and proximity to medical care. He continued, “I’m trying to balance the life that’s been lost in utero and at the same time I’m trying to balance those two concerns.”

The Utah bill passed the Republican-controlled Senate in late February — despite a last-minute attempt by a legislator to tack on an amendment that would essentially ban masturbation — and was voted out of the House committee on Monday. It will now head to a floor vote. If enacted, it would only allow people to undergo abortions if they or their fetus faced a medical emergency, or in cases of rape or incest.

Eight states have already enacted measures known as called “trigger laws,” which would immediately outlaw all or almost all abortion if Roe v. Wade is overturned, according to the Guttmacher Institute, which tracks abortion restrictions. Nine states also have abortion bans on the books from the days before Roe v. Wade.

On Monday, a Utah state Senate committee also voted to advance a bill that will require people who want abortions to undergo ultrasounds. Over the last 10 years, states have passed more than 500 measures to limit abortion.

Cover: In this May 21, 2019, file photo, activists gather in the Utah State Capitol Rotunda to protest abortion bans happening in Utah and around the country, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

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