Utah reacts to new abortion anesthesia policies

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Some believe the GOP-controlled legislature has passed messy and unconstitutional abortion legislation, while others celebrate the new law requiring doctors to give anesthesia to a fetus at 20-weeks gestation during abortions.

The State Capitol is located in Salt Lake City, Utah. Police are warning people in the city about a scammer claiming to collect fees from people for missing jury duty.
The State Capitol is located in Salt Lake City, Utah. (Associated Press)

The fetal anesthesia bill, SB234, is headed to the governor, who doesn’t plan on vetoing any bills this session.

SB234 states, “medical evidence from studies” confirm a fetus “at least 20 weeks gestational age may be capable of experiencing pain during an abortion procedure.” Other scientific studies disagree.

Before a floor debate the final day of legislation, floor sponsor Rep. Keven Stratton, R-Orem, said the bill would give “comfort” to the fetus during the “gruesome and painful” abortion procedure.

However, House minority leader Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, said politics should not be coming between a pregnant woman and her doctor.

“Babies do not exist in the womb, they exist outside the womb. Let’s honor the personal dignity of the women of Utah and vote this bill down,” King said to fellow legislators.

It’s reported that before the bill’s initial debate, Planned Parenthood of Utah hosted a rally outside the Senate chamber with women in pink hospital gowns. The women were holding signs saying, “Keep politics out of the exam room” and “Senator Bramble is NOT my doctor.”

Rachel Levitt of Murray, Utah, said this is not the first time ‘it’s my body’ has been used when arguing government’s role in abortion.

“It is their body, but now there is another body to think of, and if they’re not willing to take responsibility for it and give it life, then the least society can do is give it the chance to go out of life peacefully and painlessly,” Levitt said.

Utah’s law previously allowed fetal anesthesia, but only if requested by the women.

In a public hearing of SB234, Utah OB-GYN Leah Torres said, “The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has publicly stated that this kind of legislation is not based on science, nor is it in line with standard medical ethics.”

Torres continued, “It deeply concerns me that a legislature would have the audacity to tell me what medicines I must or must not give my patients.”

Senate Democratic leader Gene Davis, D-Salt Lake City, said he received a letter from a woman who aborted a fetus at 20 weeks for medical purposes, but was comforted she could hold the baby after birth for 45 minutes before it died.

Davis argued the bill would not allow moments like this because the anesthesia would kill the baby before birth.

Clark said Davis’ story was powerful and heart wrenching, but also said, “Most mothers don’t want that moment.”

“Most mothers I know were almost uncomfortable with the fetus after the abortion, so I think if we can spare the baby potential pain, then that is the least we can do,” said Clark.

Clark also acknowledged mothers who have no choice but to receive an abortion should be given the choice of anesthesia and said, “If that’s the case, then laws are easily amended.”

The bill did accommodate several amendments before being passed, which exempted women who would be at risk from the administration of anesthesia. However, the amendments did not specify if the reason for the abortion had an effect on its jurisdiction.

The bill bounced between the house and the senate, passing both chambers along party lines in the final hours of the legislative session.

Although the bill passed, a small percentage of Utah abortions will be affected. According to the Guttmacher institute, third-trimester abortions are rare with only 1.2 percent of terminations occurring at 21 weeks or later.

Still, many Utah voters believe this makes abortion messy, and legislative attorneys said the bill would likely lose a constitutional challenge.

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