On Monday, July 11, 3rd District Court Judge Andrew Stone placed Utah’s abortion trigger law on hold pending resolution of a lawsuit from Planned Parenthood and the ACLU of Utah.
The University of Utah is a state entity. As such, the university (including our academic health care system) follows federal and state law. Because the U.S. Supreme Court has overturned Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973), our health care providers are required to comply with S.B. 174, commonly referred to as Utah’s “trigger law.”
We acknowledge there are strong opinions on this issue. Ultimately, the legal and moral issues surrounding this debate must be resolved by the courts and the voters.
The role of the University of Utah in public debate
The University of Utah campus is a place where people of all beliefs are welcome to gather, discuss and debate issues. We reserve and defend the academic freedom and free speech rights of our students, faculty and staff to join this national discussion as private citizens. While we welcome free assembly, expression and speech, the students, staff and faculty who engage in commentary, debate, and advocacy about pregnancy termination (abortion) from and on our campus do not speak for the University of Utah. Only designated spokespeople speak on behalf of the institution.
As a public higher education and research institution with an academic medical system that educates and trains future health care providers, the university has a responsibility to speak and educate the community about issues that impact our campus community without directly engaging in political disagreements. Pregnancy termination is an issue of health care for our students, employees and patients. It is the subject of research from our faculty. And it is a matter of patient care for our hospitals and clinics staff and faculty.
Support for those across our community
Terminating a pregnancy is a complex issue with myriad considerations. It can involve private patient health considerations; potentially life-threatening maternal and fetal health problems; a pregnant person’s family and socio-economic status; deeply held religious beliefs; and clinicians’ oaths and standards of ethical practice. All these factors are legitimate points of respectful discussion.
The University of Utah supports all those impacted by this change in federal and state health care laws. It will affect our U of U Health colleagues in practical and profound ways. Also, it is likely to disproportionately affect many marginalized members of our community— women, low-income, queer and trans individuals, immigrants, those with disabilities and BIPOC individuals. The Center for Student Wellness, Women’s Resource Center and University Counseling Center all provide support and resources for members of our campus community managing the impact of this decision.
Frequently Asked Questions
Utah lawmakers adopted a “trigger law” in 2020 banning all pregnancy terminations except under certain circumstances—one of 26 states with similar legislation set to go into effect if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade. Utah also joined an amicus brief to support Mississippi’s ban on pregnancy terminations after 15 weeks, in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization (2018).
Utah’s “trigger law” provides for exceptions in cases of rape and incest, or to preserve the life of the mother or prevent “substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function.” Pregnancy terminations also are allowed in cases where two physicians agree in writing that the fetus has a fatal defect or a severe brain abnormality.
The university has reviewed the United States Supreme Court’s opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization (2022). Absent federal legislation, individual states now have extensive authority to regulate the termination of pregnancies, including terminations prior to the point of viability.
In 2020, the Utah Legislature passed Senate Bill 174, sometimes referred to as a “trigger law. Senate Bill 174 will become effective in Utah when the legislative general counsel certifies to the Utah Legislative Management Committee that the state may prohibit termination of pregnancies at any time during the gestational period. Under Senate Bill 174, Utah law no longer makes a distinction between pre- and post-viability pregnancy terminations. All pregnancy terminations are prohibited unless the termination is performed by a physician in an approved clinical setting and (i) the termination is necessary to avert either the death of the pregnant patient or a serious risk of substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function of the pregnant patient; or (ii) two maternal fetal medicine physicians concur in writing that the fetus (a) has a defect that is uniformly diagnosable and uniformly lethal, (b) has a severe brain abnormality that is uniformly diagnosable, or (iii) the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest and the physician performing the termination verifies the rape or incest has been reported to law enforcement.
The university will carefully monitor judicial and legislative developments in this area to ensure its practices conform to applicable law.
In the first two years of their education medical students receive didactic training in reproductive health care that includes content on some aspects of pregnancy termination in a classroom setting. Students may also elect to take clinical rotations. Medical residents and fellows will continue to receive pregnancy termination training at their discretion.
National graduate medical education standards require physicians-in-training understand and learn about pregnancy termination. Additionally, the procedure used for pregnancy termination is the same one used in cases of late-term miscarriage and stillbirth (fetal death). Thus, the technique is part of training to be a competent obstetrician gynecologist. No students, residents or clinical staff are ever compelled to participate in a pregnancy termination procedure if it’s contrary to their personal or religious beliefs.
Fewer than 30 pregnancy terminations are performed by U of U Health providers each year. All fall within the parameters of Utah law, which allows terminations in cases of fatal fetal defects, to protect the life of the mother or to prevent significant damage to one of the mother’s bodily functions.
According to the Guttmacher Institute, which tracks women’s health statistics nationwide, 2,990 pregnancy terminations were performed in Utah in 2017, the most recent year tracked. Overall, Utah’s pregnancy termination rate (per 1,000 women ages 15 to 44 years old) is just over 4%—among the lowest rates of any state where pregnancy termination access is available.
Delivering compassionate care is what we are about at University of Utah Health. We will continue to provide all appropriate referrals to our patients, while following state law.