The Deacon's Bench

A bill awaiting the governor’s signature could go further than any other in the country.


Last May in a small town in eastern Utah, a 17-year-old girl, seven months pregnant, paid a man she had just met $150 to beat her up in hopes of inducing a miscarriage that would resolve her crisis. He obliged, taking her to a basement and kicking her repeatedly in the stomach.

The fetus survived the assault and was born in August. The attacker went to jail. And the girl, whose name was never released because she was under age, became the center of a legal debate — and the piece of legislation now awaiting the governor’s signature or veto. The bill would formally criminalize what she did, that is, to seek an illegal abortion.

If it is signed into law by Gov. Gary R. Herbert, a Republican, who has said he agrees generally with its goals but is still studying the particulars, Utah would still allow legal abortions performed by a doctor. But it would go further than any other state, several legal experts said, in mapping out a much murkier question: when is a woman criminally liable for trying to end a pregnancy through other means or self-infliction?

The bill’s sponsor, Representative Carl D. Wimmer, a Republican and former police officer from the suburbs of Salt Lake City, said the beating case, and the decision by a judge last fall that the girl had committed no crime because seeking an abortion is not illegal, revealed “a loophole” in the law.

“A woman going out to seek any way to kill her unborn child, no matter how heinous or brutal, couldn’t be held liable,” Mr. Wimmer said.

Read on for more background and details.

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