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Lawsuit Challenges Utah Ban On Abortions After 18 Weeks

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Abortion rights groups filed a lawsuit Wednesday challenging the constitutionality of a new Utah law banning most abortions after 18 weeks of gestation, following through on a vow made when lawmakers considered the measure during this year's legislative session.


The law violates the U.S. Supreme Court's longtime stance that states cannot ban abortion before the fetus is viable outside the womb, usually at about 23 weeks, the Planned Parenthood Association of Utah argued. The American Civil Liberties Union of Utah is assisting with the lawsuit filed in federal court.

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The groups asked a judge to delay the implementation of the law, which is set to take effect on May 14.


"Decades of unanimous precedent have made clear that a ban on such abortions violates the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution," the lawsuit said. "Undeterred, Utah has yet again enacted a patently unconstitutional ban on previability abortion."


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The Utah measure allows some exceptions — including cases of rape, fatal fetal deformity or serious detriment to the mother's health.


The legal battle in Utah comes as abortion opponents across the country push for near-total bans on the procedure, emboldened by the new conservative majority on the Supreme Court. They are seeking cases that could be used to challenge Roe v. Wade, the court's 1973 ruling that legalized abortion nationwide.


The sponsor of the Utah measure, Republican Rep. Cheryl Acton, said she sponsored it to reduce the number of second-trimester abortions that "shock the conscience."

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Acton said after the lawsuit was filed that she agrees that the Utah law faces long odds of being upheld at the lower court level, but is enthused at the possibility that it might eventually be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court on appeal.


"We believe that it time to revisit Roe v. Wade," said Acton, a part-time writer and editor from the Salt Lake City suburb of West Jordan.


Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, a Republican, said when signing the law that he thought it strikes the right balance between a woman's right to choose and protecting unborn babies. He also said he was not worried about the potential $2 million cost of a lawsuit if the state loses.


Herbert declined comment through office spokeswoman Anna Lehnardt, who said the governor does not comment on ongoing legislation.

The new Utah ban adds to a long list of statewide abortion restrictions, including a 72-hour waiting period and an in-person informed consent session for women seeking abortions.


Herbert also signed into law this year a measure banning abortion if the only reason for the abortions is fetal diagnosis of Down syndrome. The law contains a so-called trigger clause and would not go into effect unless a similar measure is upheld in court for another U.S. state.


Republican Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson has also signed an 18-week ban, and several other states have considered or passed proposals to ban abortion much earlier, once a fetal heartbeat can be found.


Officials from Planned Parenthood and the ACLU were scheduled to speak about the lawsuit at a midday news conference in Salt Lake City.