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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

This DAY TO DAY. I'm Madeleine Brand.

LUKE BURBANK, host:

And I'm Luke Burbank.

In Utah, conservatives are trying to get a sweeping anti-abortion bill passed. It would outlaw abortion in nearly all cases. But supporters have national aspirations. They hope that once the bill is passed, they'll be able to join other states with similar bans and get the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Roe versus Wade.

Julie Rose of member station KCPW in Salt Lake City reports.

JULIE ROSE: Utah has one of the lowest abortion rates in the nation. And nearly every year, legislators in this conservative state attempt to tighten their abortion laws even further. But for abortion rights groups, this year's fight is different.

Ms. MISSY LARSEN (Executive Director, Planned Parenthood Action Council, Utah): The difference is it's an all-out abortion ban. The legislature's not focusing on preventing abortion. They're focusing on banning abortion.

ROSE: Missy Larsen is the executive director of the Planned Parenthood Action Council in Utah. She and a dozen others stand at a corner near Utah's state capital, waving pink signs, urging commuters to honk for abortion rights.

(Soundbite of car honking and person screaming)

ROSE: For the first time, the Utah legislature has decided to launch a direct attack on the Supreme Court abortion ruling.

Mr. PAUL RAY (Republican Legislator): I'm excited to take this challenge to the Supreme Court and let Utah lead the nation on protecting children, because that's what we're known for. We're known for our family values and our children.

ROSE: And that's Republican Utah legislator Paul Ray, a key backer of the bill that bans abortion, except in cases of rape, incest or the health of the pregnant women. Within days of its debut in Utah, South Dakota, Virginia, Mississippi, West Virginia and North Dakota unveiled similar bans. Ray says it was no coincidence.

Mr. RAY: I am talking to the other states and hoping that we can stay together on this. Number one is we can share on the cost. And then, you know, number two is it sends a message to the Supreme Court that the states are really serious about being able to dictate their own policies.

ROSE: Ray expects at least 10 states to join the movement this year. Still, legal experts believe the chances of overturning Roe are slim. ACLU of Utah legal director, Margaret Plane, says no matter the change in the court...

Ms. MARGARET PLANE (Legal Director, ACLU of Utah): If you think about the rule of law and what it means, I think a court would say not enough has changed. People still rely on this. The fundamental underpinnings of Roe have not changed. And I think it would be reaffirmed.

ROSE: Win or lose, Utah's attorney general estimates the lengthy court battle will cost state taxpayers between $1 million and $3 million. A recent poll for the Deseret Morning News in Salt Lake City finds half of Utahans are against funding the court fight. But many legislators have made it clear that their moral principles outweigh concerns about cost. Lyle Hillyard is a state senator.

State Senator LYLE HILLYARD (Republican, Utah): I don't want the message ever to go out of the legislature - me, personally - that some principles are so important, but we wouldn't fight it because the costs were too high.

ROSE: Hillyard's Republican colleagues are still working on the nuances of the ban intent on mounting the strongest Roe v. Wade challenge they can muster. Ray, for one, wants to add a penalty for both the doctor and the woman who gets an abortion.

Mr. RAY: You know, it's a two-way street. The provider is not there forcing them to do it. They choosing to go there, and they're opting pay for it.

ROSE: And what about the man?

Mr. RAY: I don't know that you can criminally punish him because she got pregnant. I mean, it's whose decision and who - you know, it's like any other crime. If my wife robs a bank, am I guilty because I married her? Absolutely not.

Ms. KARRIE GALLOWAY (Executive Director, Planned Parenthood of Utah) I just can't imagine where that's going to go.

ROSE: Planned Parenthood of Utah Executive Director Karrie Galloway is seething at Ray's plan to add penalties for women seeking abortions. And it's not sitting much better with women who oppose abortion, either. Here's Delaine England(ph), who says she's 100 percent pro-life.

Ms. DELAINE ENGLAND: I don't know exactly what kind of punishment they're thinking off. But I think when you have an abortion, it is the punishment.

ROSE: Ray may be forced to soften his measure if he wants the Utah House, Senate and governor to approve it. Rather than lead on this issue, some legislators would prefer to have another state take the heat and then establish a trigger law in Utah that would ban abortion if Roe were overturned. Abortion ban sponsor Paul Ray thinks Utah should lead the way. And he'll make his case this week when the ban comes up for debate in the Utah House.

For NPR News, I'm Julie Rose in Salt Lake City.

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