ST. GEORGE — Utah lawmakers passed a bill during the 2016 general session that will require doctors to administer anesthesia to prevent the fetus from feeling pain when women elect abortion after 20 weeks of gestation. A draft of the bill for enrolling was prepared by legislative research and general counsel Wednesday and moves forward to the governor for signature.
If the governor signs the legislation, SB 234 – Protecting Unborn Children Amendments – sponsored by Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, physicians will be required to administer an anesthetic or analgesic to the fetus, through the woman, if the fetus is greater than 20 weeks gestational age, to eliminate or alleviate pain of an unborn child in an abortion.
The new law, if enacted, adds to the face-to-face disclosures and revises written brochure disclosures required to be made by certain defined medical providers to a woman contemplating an abortion procedure. The new language is as follows:
Substantial medical evidence from studies concludes that an unborn child of at least 20 weeks gestational age may be capable of experiencing pain during an abortion procedure.
An amendment to the bill was was made during the legislative process clarifying that anesthesia is not mandated in certain cases including: if it could endanger the health of the mother; if the fetus is not viable; or when the fetus has a defect that is uniformly diagnosable and uniformly lethal, based on agreement of two doctors.
Sen. Gene Davis, D-Salt Lake City, said on the Senate floor that he received a letter from a woman who went through 12 hours of labor to abort a nonviable fetus at 20 weeks but found comfort in holding the baby after birth for 45 minutes before it died.
Davis said anesthesia would kill the baby before birth and would not allow similar situations for other women. However, Bramble said the bill’s added amendment would exempt the requirement for anesthesia in such circumstances, requiring it only in cases of an elective abortion with a healthy mother and fetus.
Courts have struck down laws prohibiting abortions, ruling they violate the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that a woman has a constitutionally protected right to terminate a pregnancy before a fetus is able to survive outside the womb.
“A fetus is not a child, it’s a potential child; an embryo is not a child, a zygote is not a child,” Rep. Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, told Utah legislators. “None of those things are babies. I hear in our debates on abortion all the time references to killing babies … but babies do not exist in the womb, they exist outside the womb.”
Normal pregnancies run about 40 weeks and the viability of a fetus is generally considered to start at 24 weeks.
“The standard in Utah, today, for an abortion is abortions cannot be performed after the point of viability,” Bramble said on the Senate floor. “Scientists who say that everyone knows that before the third trimester fetuses are basically nonresponsive lumps of tissue – children are surviving, premature births are surviving at 20 weeks gestational, long before the third trimester.”
Davis further argued that if there’s pain in the womb, there must be pain in birth. Bramble responded by saying birth is a natural process and that there is a distinct difference.
“There is nothing natural about imposing the pain of aborting a child,” Bramble argued. “As a matter of fact, let’s call it barbaric. Let’s call it what it is: It is killing babies, and if we’re going to kill that baby, we ought to have the humanity to protect them from pain.”
“There is nothing natural about imposing pain on a child for taking their life, for brutally killing them,” he added, “versus the natural process of being born.”
The bill was also met with dismay by some lawmakers who said they are troubled by the degree to which the bill inserts the Legislature in between a woman and her doctor.
“We talk all the time about getting government off the backs of people,” King said on the House floor. “… This is a pretty personal situation and decision that we’re debating here.”
Sen. Brian Shiozawa, R-Cottonwood Heights, initially voted with Democrats against the bill, arguing that the bill is cumbersome for the medical community and tells doctors and patients how to practice medicine. Shiozawa later voted in favor of the bill.
On March 10, the Protecting Unborn Children Amendments passed the House on third reading with revisions in a 57-10 affirmative vote with 8 not voting. From Southern Utah, Reps. Brad Last, John Westwood, Michael Noel, V. Lowry Snow, Don Ipson, Merrill Nelson and Jon Stanard all voted for the legislation.
The revised bill then returned to the the Senate the same day where it found concurrence 25-3 with 1 not voting. From Southern Utah, Sens. David Hinkins and Stephen Urquhart voted in favor of the bill on third reading in the Senate and in concurrence with the House amendments; Sens. Ralph Okerlund and Evan Vickers did not vote on third reading but did vote concurrence with with the amended bill on final passage.
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