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New Utah Anti-Abortion Law May Risk Women's Lives

Republican Gov. Gary Herbert of Utah signed a bill on March 28 that forces doctors to give unnecessary anesthesia to women who choose to have a legal abortion at 20 weeks of pregnancy and beyond.

The law is based on the controversial pro-life belief that a fetus feels pain at 20 weeks.

"The governor is adamantly pro-life," Herbert's spokesman Jon Cox said, notes The Associated Press.

"He believes in not only erring on the side of life, but also minimizing any pain that may be caused to an unborn child," Cox added.

However, some doctors say the unnecessary anesthesia could place women's lives in danger.

According to Dr. Sean Esplin, the anesthesia has to travel through the woman to reach the fetus. So when physicians give these women general anesthesia, it will cause them to become unconscious and require a breathing tube or a large dose of narcotics.

David Turok, of the University of Utah's obstetrics and gynecology department, said, "You never give those medicines if you don't have to."

Turok believes the law could be applied to a pregnant woman when doctors are artificially trying to induce labor (ending the pregnancy) because she is past her due date or suffering from preeclampsia, a pregnancy complication.

Turok's concern stems from an existing Utah state law that defines an abortion as "the intentional termination or attempted termination of human pregnancy after implantation of a fertilized ovum through a medical procedure carried out by a physician or through a substance used under the direction of a physician."

The Utah Medical Association convinced Republican state Sen. Curt Bramble of Utah, who wrote the law, to change the wording from a fetus "is capable of experiencing pain" to "may be capable of experiencing pain."

According to a study published by The Journal of the American Medical Association in 2005 on fetal pain: "[T]he capacity for conscious perception of pain can arise only after thalamocortical pathways begin to function, which may occur in the third trimester around 29 to 30 weeks’ gestational age, based on the limited data available." 

"Small-scale histological studies of human fetuses have found that thalamocortical fibers begin to form between 23 and 30 weeks’ gestational age, but these studies did not specifically examine thalamocortical pathways active in pain perception."

Sources: The Associated Press via NBC NewsThe Journal of the American Medical Association / Photo credit: Mikael Haggstrom/Wikimedia

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