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Doctors would be required to administer anesthesia when performing an abortion involving a fetus at or after 20 weeks' gestation under a controversial bill that appears headed for passage in the Utah Senate.
"If we're going to forfeit the life of a child, we ought to at least have the humanity to protect them from pain," said Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, sponsor of the bill. "We're not talking about a woman and her body or the issue between a doctor and the woman. … Who is it who stands for a voice for the voiceless among us?"
Currently, a woman can request anesthesia for a fetus during an abortion. Bramble's SB234, which emerged Feb. 26, just nine days before the end of the legislative session, would require a doctor to administer anesthesia or analgesic to the fetus during the abortion after 20 weeks of gestation, the point at which the legislation says a fetus can feel pain.
Planned Parenthood of Utah staged a demonstration outside the Senate chamber before the vote Friday afternoon, with women in pink hospital gowns holding signs with slogans like "Keep Politics Out of the Exam Room" and "Senator Bramble Is NOT My Doctor."
Sen. Brian Shiozawa, R-Cottonwood Heights, who is a doctor, said he believed Bramble's bill was "cumbersome" and could require any woman giving birth to a child to have anesthesia administered.
"If the senator wants to engage in changing the statutes on abortion, I'm all for that," Shiozawa said.
The Utah Medical Association has also expressed concerns with the bill and has proposed changes to the language that Bramble has rejected.
Michelle McOmber, executive director of the UMA, said the bill would only exempt dire emergencies from the anesthesia requirement. She said in some instances, such as when a fetus isn't viable, doctors would let the mother deliver and hold the baby as it dies. Under Bramble's bill, she said, anesthesia would have to be administered and the baby extracted surgically.
"It's actually more cruel to do it that way," McOmber said. "We brought fetal medical doctors here from Intermountain and University [medical centers], and we've not been able to meet with [Bramble]."
Senators voted 19-5 to move the bill to a final vote in the body early next week.
Sen. Gene Davis, D-Salt Lake City, questioned whether the bill would require a woman giving birth also to have anesthesia administered because a child presumably feels pain in the birth process.
Bramble bristled at the suggestion, insisting his bill would only impact abortions and not natural births.
"The process of a child being born is a natural process," he said. "There's nothing natural [with abortion]. In fact, it's barbaric. … In this quote 'medical procedure,' let's call it what it is. It's killing babies. And if we're going to kill that baby, we ought to protect it from pain."
Bramble had initially planned to ban abortions after 20 weeks of gestation, but legislative attorneys advised the bill would likely be unconstitutional because courts have held that abortions can only be banned after the fetus is viable.
The Provo Republican said he believes the U.S. Supreme Court was wrong when it ruled in 1973 that abortions were legal and, if he could, he would ban the procedure entirely, but that is not his intent with the current bill.
"We certainly can take humane measures to stop the imposition of the pain that would come to the child," Bramble said.