reproductive rights

Utah Requires Anesthesia for Abortions After Week 19

Utah Governor Gary Herbert.
Utah Governor Gary Herbert. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Utah has taken a fresh approach to legislating around a woman’s right to an abortion. Instead of defunding Planned Parenthood or placing burdensome regulations on abortion providers, the Beehive State has chosen to require that women receiving an elective abortion at 20 weeks or later get anesthesia for the procedure.

In Utah, abortions are legal until viability, which falls around 22 weeks. The new law, signed Monday by Governor Gary Herbert, forces women who choose to have an abortion between 20 and 22 weeks to undergo general anesthesia to make sure the fetus does not feel any pain during the procedure. Many believe fetal anesthesia is unnecessary, and it’s an open question whether a fetus, even at that stage, can feel pain. Not an open question is whether general anesthesia can add risks to a medical procedure when it’s not needed (it can).

You’re telling women that they have to have something that’s going to increase their risk based on a conclusion that is not true,” Dr. Sean Esplin of Intermountain Healthcare in Utah told the New York Times. Another expert, Dr. David Turok of the University of Utah’s OB/GYN program, felt the law could also have a negative impact on pregnancies that might need inducement, either early or late. Warned Dr. Turok, “You never give those medicines if you don’t have to.” The anesthesia requirement is waived for abortions undertaken because the mother’s health is threatened, because Utah cares about women’s health, but only to a certain extent.

Utah Requires Anesthesia for Abortions