Utah judge grants request to keep abortion trigger law on hold

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Utah’s abortion trigger law will continue to be on hold, a judge ruled Monday, and will not be enforced as a lawsuit against it continues making its way through the courts.

The trigger law would have banned abortions in Utah, except for a few limited circumstances.

“I believe that the people that enacted [the trigger law] had deep feelings about this and wanted a radical change,” 3rd District Judge Andrew Stone said before announcing his decision. “But when you’re talking about a seismic change in women’s health treatment,” he said, there are serious questions that “have to be litigated fully” before changing practices that have “been in place in Utah for nearly 50 years.”

Stone said he would grant Planned Parenthood’s request for a preliminary injunction, which went into effect Monday. Before his ruling Monday afternoon, lawyers for Planned Parenthood Association of Utah and the state argued in state court about whether the trigger law should continue to be blocked.

“We’re grateful that for now, abortion services remain legal and available in Utah,” Karrie Galloway, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Association of Utah, said in a statement Monday after the hearing. “The past few weeks since the Supreme Court’s ruling have been terrifying and confusing for our patients and providers across the state.”

With the trigger law on hold, a ban on abortion after 18 weeks of pregnancy has been in effect in Utah. And “Planned Parenthood will continue to fight to make sure it stays that way,” according to Galloway.

The organization is not planning to challenge the 18-week ban right now, Galloway said in a news conference Monday. “We are putting all of our energy into this case of challenging the trigger law in Utah,” she said.

Galloway said she expects it will take “at least a year” for Planned Parenthood’s current lawsuit to play out.

Stone had previously granted a temporary request from Planned Parenthood to stop the trigger law from being enforced for two weeks. That time period expired Monday, when Stone decided he would grant the longer-term preliminary injunction.

On Sunday, Planned Parenthood filed declarations from three Utah residents who have appointments scheduled this week with the organization to get abortions, and who would have been affected by the trigger law going back into effect. You can read their stories below.

How the judge ruled

Without the preliminary injunction, Judge Stone said, there would be “irreparable harm.”

“Women are going to be delaying treatment,” he said. “… They’re going to obtain abortions through less accessible means. … Some women will likely resort to unsafe and illegal methods, which involve risk to not only the woman, but obviously the … potential life she’s carrying.”

What the judge said he didn’t have a “clear picture of” though, is whether the trigger law, “which will cause harm, will actually prevent the harm that it was meant to prevent.”

“The fact that abortion isn’t expressly mentioned in the [Utah] constitution is relevant, but it’s not dispositive,” Stone said. “The constitution itself recognizes there can be implied rights.”

There are “clearly serious constitutional issues here to be litigated,” Stone said. For instance, “there are lots of different religious and secular views of what constitutes human life,” he said.

“This law selects a single view of that question and imposes it on everyone,” the judge said, which raises some questions.

Before ending the virtual hearing Monday, Stone said that “many, many people are following this issue and will have their own opinions, good and bad, of what I’ve done today.”

The judge recommended that “people who are genuinely interested in this issue” read the court documents outlining the arguments made by Planned Parenthood and the state to see “the level of legal analysis required to address this question and the level of thought that’s gone into this.”

[Read the state of Utah’s arguments for letting the state’s trigger abortion law go into effect.]

[Read Utah Planned Parenthood’s arguments for continuing to block state trigger abortion law.]

Stone also said he expects this case will be appealed, “and that’s really … who needs to ultimately make this constitutional determination, is the Supreme Court.”

Why some seek abortion

The three Planned Parenthood patients who said they planned to get abortions this week were identified in court documents as Jane Doe, Alex Roe and Ann Moe. Planned Parenthood’s lawyers used pseudonyms to keep the residents’ medical information private and to prevent any harassment, according to the court filing.

Their declarations have been edited for clarity and length.

Jane Doe

I’ve always known that I am not ready to have kids.

I am in my mid-20s and live with roommates in Salt Lake City. When I started attending community college, I was not sure what I wanted to do, but I finally decided to go for an associate degree in science. I attend school part-time because I work as a server at a restaurant. I make about $1,000 a month, depending on tips.

I realized I was pregnant last week because I missed my period, even though I was using condoms. I cried a lot and was very stressed out. I thought, if you ever get pregnant, you’re forced to take care of it yourself. I don’t have the right social or family support to help with raising a baby. I felt a wave of emotions.

I have not told my ex-boyfriend about the pregnancy. He cheated on me, and he is not someone I envision having a future relationship with.

I can’t take care of another human being. I don’t make enough money, and I would not have financial support from my family if I had a child. I want to be able to finish school. I want to go on to have a career.

If I had to travel out of state [to get an abortion], I would need to take time off of work and find someone to take me. My car is older, and I’m not sure it would make it out to somewhere like Idaho, where I think abortion is still legal for now. I would not get paid to take time off. The extra expense of travel, on top of the abortion, would put me behind on bills, rent and utilities. I would have to save up even more to go back to school for the fall semester.

I just want to not be pregnant as soon as possible. I don’t want everyone and their grandma to know about my abortion. I worry that I would be judged.

I think everyone should have the right to choose whether to stay pregnant. No one else knows what that person is going through. Why does anyone get to have a say about whether another person has to carry a pregnancy?

Alex Roe

I need an abortion because I cannot support another child, and I am worried about having another complicated pregnancy.

I am in my mid-30s, and I live with my two children in Weber County. I share custody, but I am their primary custodian. I am in a relationship with someone, who is not my children’s father and does not live with me.

I work as a house cleaner, and my monthly income is about $1,800 to support the three of us. I also attend online high school about five hours a week. If I am able to get this degree, I have a job offer to work at an information and technology help desk.

I realized I was pregnant last week, and I immediately knew I wanted an abortion. I do not want more children. It is already hard for me to support and care for my two existing children on my income. I already worry about paying rent each month. I also worry about being too old to be pregnant again. My first pregnancy involved a preeclampsia scare and induction when I started leaking amniotic fluid. With this pregnancy, I am already having cramping and intense emotions of anger and sadness.

I would have no idea where to go if I had to travel out of state to get an abortion. I might to go to California because I have family there, and I know that abortion is legal there. But I would worry about being out of work and falling short on rent.

Utah’s abortion ban makes me feel repressed, like people who don’t know me are keeping me down. I am angry that these people want to make this decision for me. I was doing everything I could not to be in this position. I was using condoms and had made an appointment to have my tubes tied. Despite all of that, this happened to me, and I just want to have an abortion as soon as I can.

Ann Moe

I need an abortion in order to take the best possible care of my family.

I am in my late 30s, and I live in Sevier County. And I am a single mother of three children.

I actually first suspected I was pregnant on the same day I first heard about Utah’s abortion ban. I was at work, about to start a meeting, and my first thought was that I might actually be pregnant myself and need an abortion. I had been taking a low-dose daily contraceptive pill, but I missed a couple of days. I also took Plan B emergency contraception, but it did not work.

Put simply, I am not in a place financially or mentally to care for another child. Two of my children live with me, along with my significant other and his two children. [Two other relatives also live with us and some of the children have special needs.]

In our household, I am the only one who works. My significant other is legally disabled and has multiple serious health conditions. His monthly disability benefits from the state plus my salary gives us a monthly household income of about $4,800 to support the seven of us.

I am also concerned about being pregnant at my age, and the health complications that could result.

If the ban goes into effect, I will have to find another way to have my abortion, and quickly. I am guessing that I would need to drive several hours to a state where abortion is legal. I would have to find child care. Any time off from work to travel would come out of my PTO, which is already running low, and I need it to attend my children’s doctor’s visits and therapy appointments.

This travel would also set our family back financially, particularly with the price of gas. A new school year is also coming up, and that means doctor’s appointments and new clothing for the children.

Still, all of these logistical difficulties and expenses are less than the ones that come with having a baby.

The abortion ban does not only affect women. It also affects men who may have health issues or other circumstances that mean they are unable to support a child and be an effective parent to the best of their ability.

I believe strongly in advocating for families and their right to choose what is best for them, because it is no one’s business but their own. Nobody should be prevented from doing what is right for the benefit of their family.

Timeline of Utah’s abortion laws

March 2019: Utah Legislature passes HB136, banning abortions after 18 weeks of pregnancy.

April 2019: Planned Parenthood Association of Utah sues, challenging the constitutionality of the 18-week ban. A federal judge issues an injunction that keeps the law from being enforced while that case is pending.

March 2020: Utah Legislature passes SB174, creating a trigger law that would ban most abortions in the Beehive State if the U.S. Supreme Court ever overturned Roe v. Wade.

Morning of June 24, 2022: U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade.

Evening of June 24, 2022: Utah’s trigger law (SB174) goes into effect.

June 25, 2022: Planned Parenthood Association of Utah sues, arguing trigger law violates rights in Utah Constitution.

June 27, 2022: An emergency court hearing is held. A state judge grants a temporary restraining order, blocking the trigger law from being enforced for two weeks. Meanwhile, the federal lawsuit over the 18-week ban is dismissed.

June 28, 2022: Utah’s 18-week ban goes into effect, while trigger law is on hold.

July 11, 2022: A state judge grants a preliminary injunction, keeping the trigger law on hold until Planned Parenthood Association of Utah’s lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the law is resolved.