SALT LAKE CITY, March 29 (UPI) — Utah now has a law on the books requiring doctors to give anesthesia to abortion patients 20 or more weeks into pregnancy in an effort to reduce pain felt by the fetus.
It is the first law of its kind in the United States, though whether a 20-week-old fetus can feel anything is disputed.
Republican Gov. Gary Herbert signed the bill, HB 0234, into law Monday. His spokesman, Jon Cox, said in an emailed statement to USA Today, “The governor is adamantly pro-life. He believes in not only erring on the side of life, but also minimizing any pain that may be caused to an unborn child.”
Republican State Sen. Curt Bramble, sponsor of the bill, said he sought a ban on abortion after 20 weeks but was informed such a bill would likely be tested on constitutional grounds. His bill, which requires that doctors “eliminate or alleviate organic pain to the unborn child,” was the next best option, he said.
Proponents of the law say the anesthesia prevents any suffering by the fetus during the abortion procedure. “Pain-capable unborn protection” laws exist in 12 states, although Utah’s law is the first to demand that anesthesia is provided.
There remains, though, no proof a fetus feels anything in its first 28 weeks. A 2005 review of 300 studies published in the Journal of the American Medical Association concluded no perception of pain is felt in the first trimester, and use of anesthesia can put women at risk of complications.
“You’re now mandating [women] take that risk, based on inconclusive and biased evidence. You don’t understand what you’re legislating,” Utah doctor Dr. Sean Esplin said during committee testimony on the bill, earlier in March.
Herbert said last month he was attempting to simply answer a question. “If we’re going to have abortion, what is the most humane way to do it?”
“Fetuses have a heartbeat after about five weeks, and the idea of just being callous about that should cause all of humanity concern,” he said.
Katie Galloway of Planned Parenthood of Utah, the state’s only provider of abortions after the 20-week mark, said the idea of unskilled politicians overruling opinions of doctors is “infuriating.”
“I mean, we have fetal medical specialists speaking and they were discounted by a citizen who said, ‘I read it on the Internet and therefore it must be true.’ That’s how we do policy here in Utah.”
In Utah, a woman must receive in-person counseling and wait 72 hours before an abortion can be performed.