On Friday, June 24, 2022 the United States Supreme Court in Dobbs, State Health Officer of the Mississippi Department of Health, et al. v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization et al., held that
“The Constitution does not confer a right to abortion: Roe and Case are overruled; and the authority to regulate abortion is returned to the people and their elected representatives.”
In this landmark decision, foreshadowed earlier this year by the leak of an initial draft majority opinion, the Court overturned precedent established in the 1973 seminal decision Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113. While many legal theorists had hypothesized that this was a likely result of the 6-3 conservative majority established on the Court during the Trump presidency, the full impacts of the decision have not yet been established. Because the “authority to regulate abortion” was returned primarily to individual states, each state’s reaction has differed, and the purpose of this blog is to follow how Utah has adapted to the Court’s ruling.
Prior to the June 24, 2022 ruling, the Utah Legislature in early 2020 passed Senate Bill 174, titled the Abortion Prohibition Amendments. SB 174 amended Utah Code § 76-7a-101 to include a broad ban of abortion save in limited circumstances. Specifically, SB 174 made abortion illegal unless the abortion was (1) medically necessary to prevent death or serious bodily harm of the mother; (2) the fetus was medically untenable; or (3) if the pregnancy was the result of rape or incest. However, SB 174 specifically provided in Utah Code § 76-7a-301 that “the provisions of this bill take effect on the date that the legislative general counsel certifies to the Legislative Management Committee that a court of binding authority has held that a state may prohibit the abortion of an unborn child at any time during the gestational period, subject to the exceptions enumerated in this bill.” This contingency clause intended to make SB 174 immediately effective upon any ruling of the Supreme Court overturning Roe, and this provision was triggered on June 24, 2022 as a result of the Supreme Court’s Dobbs Ruling when John L. Fellows, general counsel for the Utah legislature, informed the Legislative Management Committee that the triggering provisions of SB 174 had been met.
Immediately following the implementation of SB 174, Planned Parenthood Association of Utah filed a lawsuit in Utah’s 3rd District seeking relief from SB 174. Specifically, Planned Parenthood argued that SB 174 violated the Utah State Constitution, and placed an irreparable burden on individuals who were already scheduled for appointments with clinics across Utah. On Monday, June 27, Judge Andrew Stone granted Planned Parenthood a Temporary Restraining Order, prohibiting SB 174 from taking effect for fourteen days (14) and scheduling a hearing on the matter.
It is unclear what the future of abortion services in Utah will be. While it is clear that regulations are no longer barred by Roe, some legal question remains regarding what state level regulation will look like in Utah, and when it will take effect. SB 174 likely will form the basis for any future regulations, but with the substantial public discourse surrounding the controversial ruling and Judge Stone’s temporary stay, even that is subject to change.
EDIT: On July 11, 2022, Judge Andrew Stone granted a preliminary injunction continuing the stay of SB 174. This new preliminary injunction is not time limited and will likely persist through the entirety of Planned Parenthood’s challenge to SB 174.