Abortion in Utah legal but availability limited, especially in Southern Utah

abortions in utah
Photo Courtesy of Pregnancy Check

Abortion regulation increased by 2011 Utah laws

ST. GEORGE – Contrary to some presumption, elective abortion is legal in Utah and has been for years.  Its availability, however, is limited and may become increasingly so, depending upon one’s independent means among other things.

In its general session 2011, Utah lawmakers enrolled three specific laws which, collectively, increase accountability and visibility of medical providers and clinics performing elective abortions, buttress the rights of medical providers who object to providing elective abortions and prohibit certain funding options for patients seeking such abortions.

Elective abortions, generally speaking, are those which are not sought as a result of rape or incest, or the woman suffering from a physical disorder, injury or illness, including certain life endangering conditions.

Utah’s newest laws are HB0171S02, Abortion Clinic Licensing, HB0353, Abortion Freedom of Conscience, and HB0354S02, Insurance Amendments Relating to Abortion.

Before the Abortion Clinic Licensing bill was enacted, Utah required specific licensing only of what one would consider an “abortion clinic.”  What were not subject to licensing were doctors performing elective abortions within their private offices, without accountability and with some horror stories across the United States giving rise to the Legislature’s concern that such practices meet certain safety, sanitation, and other standards.

As enacted, licensing now requires that any medical provider, individual or facility, that performs elective abortions must be specifically licensed for that purpose and will be subject to two inspections a year, one of which inspections must be unannounced.

Identifying who and which these formerly unidentified elective abortion providers are, “nobody knows!” said Thomas Vaughn, associate general counsel to the Utah Legislature, (a nonpartisan position).  Vaughn said, explaining:

“This issue came up when the legislation was being considered, so when they do their licensing renewal, they will be required to disclose whether or not they perform elective abortions in Utah at any place other than a hospital; this will determine whether they are subject to the new licensing requirement and attendant inspections.”

The new licensing requirement will begin at the next renewal period for licensing of medical providers, at which time they will have to say whether or not they perform elective abortions; renewal requirements run every couple of years and the new requirements will first come into play sometime around or after the end of this calendar year.

“Freedom of Conscience” law is not new to Utah, but the new law enrolled expands its protection.

“Previous law did protect freedom of conscience, allowing an individual physician to object to performing elective abortion,” Vaughn said. “It did not afford that freedom to medical facilities.  The new law does.  It also clarifies what would constitute retaliatory action towards any health care provider who refuses to perform an elective abortion (for example, denying raises, termination, denying promotion, those kinds of employer-employee things).”

The new bill providing Insurance Amendments relating to Abortion is not, Vaughn said, so much an effort of Utah’s Legislature to stave off intrusion of federal power into the will of the state, but one taking advantage of an option included in President Obama’s Health Care Plan that allows states to opt out of provisions that otherwise offer federal Public Health Exchanges to cover elective abortions.

Public Health Exchanges, in simple terms, are those through which an entity, a small business, or otherwise, might shop insurance offerings from several companies.  The concern arose to the Utah Legislature that such insurers’ services, through the Public Health Exchanges, might offer coverage for elective abortions that would be otherwise prohibited under state laws or undesirable from the perspective of the state.

This law provides a restriction upon insurance companies from covering elective abortion which did not previously exist,” Vaughn said. “No insurance company providing coverage in Utah can cover elective abortion.”

In Southern Utah, it seems that elective abortions are unavailable, unless there are medical providers performing such services privately to their patients.  As Vaughn said, “nobody knows.”  The new licensing law ought serve to reveal in public record those performing elective abortions since they will be required to obtain specific license for that purpose.

Terri Draper, communications director for Intermountain Healthcare Southwest Region at Dixie Regional Medical Center in St. George, adamantly stated that such elective abortions are not performed at DRMC.

“We do not schedule abortions at DRMC,” Draper said.  “Under certain circumstances, if the mother’s life is in danger or if the fetus has some kind of a defect, documented by a physician, that it’s lethal to the fetus, or if the woman is pregnant through the result of rape or incest, then it is possible that an abortion could take place here.”

“If legislation happens (that purports to require DRMC to perform elective abortions), we would take a hard look at that and come up with an implementation plan.”

Draper said that she is not aware of any places in Southern Utah that one can get an elective abortion.  She added,

“In Utah there’s nothing illegal that would prohibit you from having an elective abortion, the problem is, who is going to pay for it? Utah legislation prohibits insurance companies from paying for it, but even if they have their own source of funds, we will not do it.”

Planned Parenthood does have a clinic in St. George, but it does not offer elective abortion procedures at that facility.  Karrie Galloway, chief executive officer of Planned Parenthood Association of Utah, said that there is no intention at this time to establish an abortion clinic in Southern Utah and that she is not aware of anyone in the Southern Utah community that provides elective abortion.

“We (Planned Parenthood) do have an abortion clinic in Salt Lake City, we have had one since last fall,” Galloway said. “The people that Planned Parenthood sees in our practice, the majority, men and women, are uninsured.  Our practice is mostly subsidized here by Title X (federal funds, but none of them go to abortion services) for reproductive health care for family planning, birth control, pap smears, breast exams, sexually transmitted diseases, general reproductive health care for men and women.”

“We serve almost 52,000 people in Utah statewide each year –  0.01 percent of that is abortion.  Since we’ve started last fall, we’ve performed just over 100 elective abortions,” she said.

Galloway said that there are other Planned Parenthood clinics in the central and eastern parts of the state, as well as in St. George, but none of those perform elective abortions.

The cost of a first trimester abortion at Planned Parenthood is a little over $400, said Galloway.

“We don’t provide anything beyond the first trimester, so I’m not aware of the fee schedule,” she said. “In Utah, we do not provide abortion beyond first trimester, other states, yes.”

Galloway said that there is only one provider which does perform abortions beyond the first trimester in Utah – Utah Women’s Clinic in Salt Lake City.

Norma Cornejo, back office supervisor for Utah Women’s Clinic, confirmed that the clinic does perform elective abortions beyond the first trimester, into the second trimester but not into the third trimester.

Cornejo said that the only criteria they exercise pertaining to a second trimester elective abortion is that, basically, they do not go over 20 weeks and that it is an all day process.  She said that Dr. Madhuri Shah is the doctor who established this practice and has been in it for about 25 years.

“We have two other doctors who work two days a week, but Dr. Shah works the rest of the week.  For 25 years in Utah she has been performing abortions,” Cornejo said.

Utah Women’s Clinic is a busy venue.  Cornejo offered some numbers:

“Let’s see, uh, for monthly just the first tris (sic), including the medical procedures (that is termination with medication she explained), we do between 100 and 115.  Second tris, we do between 13 and 20 weeks, we do monthly maybe about 15 to 20.”

Cornejo said their patients pay with cash or credit; the clinic has no insurance contracts and gives patients a walkout statement they can submit to insurers themselves.  She said they do provide contact information for patients to reach the National Abortion Federation, but leave that up to the patients to deal with themselves, as well.  She said that UWC receives no funding from any source, “none, none, none.”

It being evident that elective abortions can be had in Utah, it is equally evident that obtaining them in Southern Utah is difficult if not entirely unavailable.  Despite many contacts St. George News made in connection with this report, no identification of any elective abortion provider emerged.

Planned Parenthood’s Galloway opined that though Representative Carl Wimmer (R-Herriman), who initiated the three bills passed in the 2011 general session, may have had intentions for the bills to impact Planned Parenthood, they impact the women, men and families of Utah.

“We only provide a service,” Galloway said. “The bills that were passed cause hardship for the men and women of Utah trying to access health care services, reproductive services, which are legal.  The law, it was passed, that prevents any private insurer from covering abortion except to save the life of the mother, um, hurts people who have insurance who may need to choose to terminate a pregnancy, it doesn’t hurt Planned Parenthood.”

Galloway adds her consideration that the bill, which speaks to health care facilities being able to exercise a conscience clause, as a facility, was unnecessary.

“Wimmer even mentioned that two people said it isn’t surprising that we don’t have a law, it wasn’t ever any problem that we need a law, … that is his express goal to work at the edges of reproductive rights,” Galloway said. “That was his goal, to make a law, not that we needed it, because everyone respects everyone else’s conscience when it comes to abortion.  No one forces anyone to have an abortion, nor does any facility, medical practice force anyone to provide an abortion.  There have never been complaints about that.  And so it was Wimmer’s need to make a law, I’m sorry that’s just my personal opinion, even he said there wasn’t really a problem out there.  But it allows Wimmer to pass three anti-choice abortion laws.”

Points of view on abortion will inevitably vary, but one thing is likely, these recent laws may not be the last to be seen on the matter.   Wimmer has recently opened a new bill file which promises to explore the possibility of limiting or prohibiting indirect payments of funds to a provider who performs elective abortions.

Galloway speculates on the possible impact, should such a law come into effect:

“There are three programs that Planned Parenthood is involved in, all three of those programs use federal funds that are funneled through the State Health Department,” Galloway. “Two of them are Center for Disease Control funded programs.  And the other is a federal program that is teenage pregnancy prevention.”

A vital consideration and genuine need for people when it comes to pregnancy issues, crisis, unwanted or otherwise, is that of options, support and assistance.  Southern Utah does have the benefit of providers and organizations which offer compassionate counsel and resources to people faced with these issues.  St. George News expects to feature some of those resources in forthcoming articles.

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Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2011, all rights reserved.




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