A new Utah law that goes into effect on Tuesday will force doctors to shirk their promise to “do no harm” by dangerously over-anesthetizing women who seek a later abortion.
Informed by anti-abortion state lawmakers rather than by medical experts, the “Protecting Unborn Children Amendment” requires physicians to administer an anesthetic to any women seeking an abortion at 20 weeks of pregnancy or later, to “eliminate or alleviate organic pain to the unborn child.” Like many anti-abortion laws on the state level, Utah’s law rests on the unscientific belief that a fetus can feel pain at 20 weeks of gestation.
You want me to experiment on my patients.
Most states that introduce “fetal pain” legislation try to ban abortions entirely after 20 weeks — and at least 12 have been successful. Utah is the first to pass an anesthesia-related bill instead of outright prohibiting the practice. But according to physicians, it may as well be a ban.
“You’re asking me to invent a procedure that doesn’t have any research to back it up,” said Dr. Leah Torres, an OB-GYN, who works at one of Utah’s two licensed abortion clinics, in an interview with the New York Times. “You want me to experiment on my patients.”
Utah physicians have strongly opposed the bill since its inception, arguing that unscientific opinions from state lawmakers have no place in a safe doctor-patient relationship — especially if they put a woman’s life at risk.
Abortion providers already offer general anesthesia to women receiving a second-trimester abortion, and the drugs naturally enter the fetus’ bloodstream. Currently, these providers are mandated to inform women of anesthesia-related side effects and health risks. This new law does not include this precaution, and instead asks doctors to inform their patient that “substantial medical evidence from studies concludes that an unborn child who is at least 20 weeks gestational age may be capable of experiencing pain during an abortion procedure.”