This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
If the Utah Legislature passes its bill to require fetal anesthesia in some abortions, it will be to make a statement. There is little evidence it will stop any fetal pain.
Senate Bill 234 would require anesthesia for the fetus in any abortion that occurs after 20 weeks gestation. The bill is modeled after similar federal legislation that passed the U.S. House but was never taken up by the Senate. There is debate as to when a fetus has developed enough to feel pain, but the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists' position is that the brain hasn't developed enough to register pain until the third trimester, which is about 27 weeks.
Utah already has gone far down this road. State law currently requires that women who seek abortions after 20 weeks be advised that the fetus may feel pain, and doctors have to provide anesthesia to the fetus if the woman requests it.
But this bill would go one step further and require the administration of anesthesia in a state-ordered medical procedure that introduces added risk for women who often already face complicated and potentially dangerous health risks. The bill exempts cases where the health of the mother is at stake or when the fetus has a fatal defect.
So the question arises: How many cases would this affect?
If this bill had been law in 2014 the last year for which Utah abortion statistics are available the answer may have been zero.
In 2014, there were just 17 abortions performed after 20 weeks gestation in Utah, according to the Utah Department of Health. The "reason for termination" for 14 of those cases was "fetal deformation," and the other three list the reason as "therapeutic," which may include the health of the mother. There were no elective abortions performed after 20 weeks in Utah in 2014, and that is common for any year.
So this bill is aimed at a very small number – perhaps even none – of the roughly 2,700 abortions performed in Utah. And if it does apply, it will be hitting women who are already facing heartbreakingly difficult situations.
The problem with laws like this is not that fetuses don't deserve protection from pain. It's that women deserve that protection, too. And it's not just physical pain. It's facing a state government that assumes that they, with their doctors' help, wouldn't make the right decision on their own about fetal pain and anesthesia.
Who are these women who would terminate fetuses they have carried in their wombs for 4½ months with no concern for their pain? They simply don't exist.
Make your statements elsewhere, legislators. Leave these women alone, and hope that you will never know their pain.