Utah law requires abortion anesthesia at 20 weeks
SALT LAKE CITY — The governor has signed a bill that makes Utah the first state to require doctors to give anesthesia to women having an abortion at 20 weeks of pregnancy or later.
The bill signed by Republican Gov. Gary Herbert is based on the disputed premise that a fetus can feel pain at that point.
“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,” Herbert spokesman Jon Cox said.
Many doctors in Utah and across the country worry that the requirement could increase the health risks to women by giving them unnecessary heavy sedation to protect a fetus from pain that it may or may not feel.
Dr. Sean Esplin of Intermountain Healthcare in Utah said anesthesia or an analgesic would need to go through the woman in order to reach the fetus. Doctors could give a woman general anesthesia, which would make her unconscious and likely require a breathing tube, or a heavy dose of narcotics.
No other state has passed such a law, said Elizabeth Nash, a policy analyst at the abortion-rights nonprofit Guttmacher Institute. Montana lawmakers passed a similar law in 2015 requiring fetal anesthesia before surgeries, including abortions, performed after 20 or more weeks of gestation, but its Democratic governor vetoed the measure.
Twelve states ban nearly all abortions after about 20 weeks of gestation, and a handful of states give women the option of having anesthesia.
Previous Utah law gave women the choice to have anesthesia during an abortion.
The new law by Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, targets a small subset of women who have elective abortions beginning at 20 weeks. State law normally allows abortions until viability, which is at about 22 weeks.