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Utah bans abortion clinics; procedure still legal up to 18 weeks

The law prohibits abortion clinics from obtaining new licenses after May 2, unless they fall under the definition of a hospital.
A sign outside of a Planned Parenthood clinic in Utah.
Posted at 10:10 AM, Mar 16, 2023

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox signed legislation Wednesday that will effectively ban abortion clinics in the state by next year.

The Bill, known as H.B. 467 Abortion Changes, prohibits abortion clinics from obtaining new licenses after May 2, unless they meet the definition of a hospital.

The passage has prompted confusion, as overburdened hospitals will now be the only places allowed to perform legal abortions in the state.

Abortions are currently legal in Utah up to 18 weeks of pregnancy, but the new measure adds more complications in a state where about 2,800 women get abortions each year.

Shortly after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last year, Utah lawmakers quickly certified the state's trigger law that prohibited the majority of abortions,  with a few rare exceptions.

However, a Utah state court later granted Planned Parenthood's request for a temporary restraining order, allowing clinics to continue performing the procedure while the issue was debated by the courts.

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Abortion rights advocates argue that the latest bill is essentially a back door workaround to further restrict the procedure while courts deliberate.

If clinics are unable to perform legal abortions in the state, some worry it would reroute patients to under-staffed hospitals, where health care costs are significantly higher.

Dr. Carole Joffe is a professor at the University of California, San Francisco, and she says she's concerned the changes could limit or delay options for patients seeking an abortion.

"Everything in a hospital is more expensive than in a clinic," she said. "Doing an abortion in a hospital, you need more personnel."

No hospitals in the state performed elective abortions last year, according to the Utah Hospital Association.

Additionally, the vast majority of abortions in Utah and the U.S. are performed using medication like mifepristone, which is typically prescribed by abortion clinics rather than hospitals.