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Appeals court strikes down Utah abortion law

December 24, 1996

DENVER (AP) _ Utah’s law banning abortions after the 20th week of gestation is unconstitutional because it infringes upon a woman’s right to choose, a federal appeals court has ruled.

The law’s ban on abortions during the first 20 weeks already had been thrown out in previous rulings.

It was not immediately clear if Utah has any remaining restrictions on abortions. State Attorney General Jan Graham’s spokesman Palmer DePaulis said attorneys were reviewing the decision today.

The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Monday on a 1991 Utah law that banned abortions except in cases when the mother’s life is in danger, to prevent the birth of a child with grave defects or when the pregnancy results from rape or incest.

The 10th Circuit had been told by the U.S. Supreme Court to reconsider an earlier decision in the case.

One section of the law banned abortions during the first 20 weeks of pregnancy and a second section banned them after the 20th week except in narrow circumstances.

U.S. District J. Thomas Greene in Salt Lake City had earlier found the ban in the first 20 weeks unconstitutional, but he said abortions could be banned after that.

The 10th Circuit, in its first consideration of Greene’s decision, ruled the two sections of the law inseparable and threw out the entire law.

The U.S. Supreme Court, however, ruled last June that the sections of the law must be reviewed separately and sent the case back to the 10th Circuit.

In its ruling Monday, the 10th Circuit Court reversed Greene’s decision that abortions could be banned after the 20th week.

The appellate court noted U.S. Supreme Court precedent holds that a physician, not legislation, should determine viability of a fetus ``and until viability is actually present the state may not prevent a woman from choosing to abort.″

Utah state Rep. Robert Killpack, one of the most vocal opponents of abortion in the state Legislature, said he wasn’t surprised by the 10th Circuit’s ruling.

``They just think everything we do here is off the wall, but it’s not. We have scientific evidence″ that fetuses can survive at 20 weeks, he said.

Gayle Ruzicka of the conservative Eagle Forum of Utah said the group hopes state officials will appeal Monday’s ruling back to the Supreme Court.

The original appeal, Jane L. vs. (then Gov. Norm) Bangerter, was filed April 1991 in Salt Lake City. Plaintiffs included several women, using pseudonyms; the Utah Women’s Clinic; Planned Parenthood of Utah; the College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists; and other individuals.

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