Going into effect at the end of May, a controversial law passed by the Utah State Legislature and signed by right wing Governor Gary R. Herbert, will require that women seeking an abortion after 20 weeks take “fetal anesthesia.” This forces women to take painkillers or anesthetics on behalf of the fetus, though it does not specify how they should be administered.
Researchers have not yet come to a consensus on when exactly a fetus is able to feel physical pain, but most agree that a fetus does not develop the capacity to feel pain, as they do not yet have the proper neurological connections, until far later than 20 weeks in the pregnancy.
The New York Times has reported that doctors are frustrated by these and other such vague restrictions which make the difficult decision of terminating a pregnancy even more complicated. Dr. Leah Torres, and obstetrician-gynecologist who works one day a month at one of Utah’s only licensed abortion clinics, raised concerns about the ethics of such a decision.
“You’re asking me to invent a procedure that doesn’t have any research to back it up. You want me to experiment on my patients.”
In reality, abortions at or past 20 weeks make up a very small percentage of pregnancy terminations. Usually, when a pregnancy is terminated at a later stage, it’s due to an untreatable and debilitating problem with the fetus’ development, or due to potentially lethal complications for the mother should the pregnancy be carried to term.
According to the law, doctors would be legally required to tell women who are already encountering stress and heartbreak that medical evidence shows that aborting the fetus will cause it pain, even though there is no medical evidence to support this. Critics of the law call it vague and medically unsound.
Many women already receive anesthesia or painkillers if they have surgical abortions, and those drugs naturally pass to the fetus. Dr. Torres asked if that would be enough — if Motrin would suffice. And other doctors asked if they would have to specifically inject a fetus with an anesthetic through a woman’s abdominal wall.
“We don’t know what to do,” Dr. Torres said. “What does it mean? How do we not break this law?”
This vague and illogical law seems to have been put into place to come between women and the care they need.
Featured image: blog.governor.utah.gov