A judge has released a 17-year-old Vernal girl from jail after ruling she did not commit a crime when she allegedly paid a man to beat her in an attempt to miscarry her seven-month-old fetus.
The release, which came after the girl's mother obtained a second opinion on her daughter's no contest plea, has incensed some lawmakers who argue the ruling skirts laws governing legal abortions in Utah.
"The judge is absolutely stretching," said Rep. Carl Wimmer, R-Herriman. "There's no way the judge believes the Utah Legislature left open this loophole. I guarantee it will be closed this next session."
Eighth District Juvenile Court Judge Larry Steele sided with attorney Rich King, who argued under Utah law and around the country women are not held criminally liable for soliciting an abortion.
"Women may use any procedure or method of terminating pregnancy, by abortion or by miscarriage, and they cannot be charged with a crime," King said.
Judge Steele called the girl's actions "shocking and crude" in a four-page ruling Thursday, but said her actions "fit the definition for an abortion. As such, she cannot be held criminally liable for her actions pursuant to the Utah abortion statutes."
Prosecutors had argued the girl's failed attempt was not a legal abortion, which in Utah can only be performed before the fetus is able to survive outside the womb by a physician licensed to perform abortions in a medical facility. But Steele said a law protecting women who seek abortions from prosecution does not include the word "medical" when referring to procedures used to abort a fetus.
"The Legislature clearly understood the difference and intended the difference," Steele wrote.