SALT LAKE CITY — Utah doctors would have to administer anesthesia to a fetus before an abortion based on the belief that the unborn child can feel pain under controversial legislation the state Senate debated Friday.
"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," said Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, the bill sponsor.
The Senate voted 19-5 to put SB234 up for a final vote next week. Sen. Brian Shiozawa, R-Cottonwood Heights, joined the Democrats in voting against the bill, saying it's "cumbersome" for the medical community and tells doctors and patients how to practice medicine.
The bill requires doctors to administer an anesthetic or analgesic to eliminate or alleviate "organic" pain in an abortion performed after 20 or more weeks of gestation. "Substantial medical evidence from studies" concludes that an unborn child of at least 20 weeks gestation is capable of experiencing pain during an abortion, according to the bill.
About 20 women wearing pink hospital gowns lined up outside the Senate chamber to protest the bill. They held signs reading, "Don't force doctors to lie to patients" and "Keep politicians out of the exam room."
“I had to make the decision, a very difficult one, to have an abortion, which ultimately saved my life,” Kara Gaultney told reporters. “Politicians like Senator Bramble will never have to face the decisions that us, the women of Utah, have to make.”
Sen. Gene Davis, D-Salt Lake, argued that if there's pain in the womb, there must be pain in birth, and the bill doesn't address that.
Bramble said birth is natural. "There is nothing natural about imposing pain on a child for taking their life, for brutally killing them," he said.
Davis said the courts gave women the right to choose an abortion and they don't make it callously. He said a pain shot for the fetus puts the mother at great risk.
"This is not a woman's bill," said Sen. Margaret Dayton, R-Orem. "This is the baby's bill."
Shiozawa, an emergency room doctor, said the proposed law mandates that anyone having a labor and delivery must have a general anesthesia.
"If that is so, you can forget natural birth and labor" because there's probably pain to a fetus coming down the birth canal, he said. Shiozawa urged Bramble to consult with the Utah Medical Association about changing the bill before it comes up for a final vote.
Bramble said he spoke with the medical association, obstetricians and aneshesiologists and the bill wasn't crafted in a vacuum.
Utah law already requires a woman to be given the option of having an anesthetic or analgesic administered to a fetus before an abortion occurring after 20 weeks of gestation.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Roe v. Wade that a woman has a constitutionally protected right to terminate a pregnancy before a fetus is able to survive outside the womb. The viability of a fetus is generally considered to start at 24 weeks. Normal pregnancies run about 40 weeks.
Bramble said premature children are surviving today at 20 weeks. He called abortion "barbaric," "horrendous' and a "death sentence" for the unborn child and that he would reverse the court's 1973 decision if he could.