This Utah Anti-Abortion Law Puts Clinics In An Awfully Confusing Position

On Tuesday, a new law in Utah requiring fetuses to receive anesthesia or painkillers went into effect, and has, naturally, befuddled quite a few doctors. The law requires pain relief medication before abortions at 20 weeks of gestation or later, but most doctors have responded to this law by pointing out that no evidence suggests a fetus would feel pain at this stage, and that, in any case, there is no known method for how to administer pain relief to fetuses. “The pain doesn’t exist, so I can’t make it go away,” David Turok of the University of Utah’s obstetrics and gynecology department told the Associated Press.

Hmm. Might this be a way to make women feel guilty about their abortion by implying that they are “putting their baby in pain”? Just sayin’.

While Utah doctors have focused on taking measures to relieve women’s pain and discomfort throughout abortion procedures, to the Republican lawmakers who, of course, sponsored the law, this simply isn’t good enough. Utah Gov. Gary Herbert (R) signed the fetal pain relief bill into law when its sponsors, who were, naturally, Republican lawmakers, argued doctors had an obligation to “alleviate organic pain to the unborn child.”

“If a child can experience pain, we have an obligation to protect that child,” Republican state Sen. Curt Bramble has said of the law. (Because a fetus is totally the same as a child).

And in response to confused doctors who could really use some more details, Bramble told the Associated Press that the Legislature isn’t obligated to tell a doctor how to comply with the law, and even shared this awfully clever analogy: “We don’t tell a general contractor how to build a house, but we tell them what the standards are if they’re going to build a house.”

Interesting how the Legislature would rather not tell doctors what to do in order to comply with the law, but lawmakers happily take it upon themselves to more or less tell women what to do with their bodies.

Let’s not forget that in December, Utah would have defunded Planned Parenthood were it not for a federal court order, and you would have to be blind to not recognize these latest regulations regarding fetal pain as an effort to make abortion procedures more difficult to obtain than they already are. This is the very strategy anti-abortion lawmakers have been utilizing over the past few years to block access to abortion, not through laws explicitly banning choice, but through underhanded and often unnecessary regulations disguised as safety precautions.

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CREDIT: Brianne/Flickr

One doctor, obstetrician-gynecologist Leah Torres of Salt Lake City, spoke to legislators and visited the the governor’s office as well as the attorney general’s office looking for answers, and of course, to point out how there’s “no science or medical standard for eliminating pain felt by a fetus.” Their response: Consult an attorney.

“I have no choice but to cross my fingers and hope that what I’m doing already is in compliance, because I don’t know what they’re talking about,” Torres told the AP.

Being an abortion provider is difficult enough in a society that continues to unnecessarily stigmatize the procedure, rendering providers vulnerable to threats and violence. I can only imagine how much more difficult the profession will be for Utah providers who have virtually no clue how to comply with the law, and no way of knowing if they are or aren’t.

Fortunately, at least according to Sen. Bramble, the fetal pain relief law only applies to “less than 1 percent of all abortions performed in the state.” But ultimately, this doesn’t change the fact that doctors who do end up performing abortions for fetuses at or past 20 weeks gestation will be placed in an awfully confusing position, and could even face felony charges for a law they received no clear instructions on how to follow.

Utah is the first state to pass this latest, and arguably most bizarre, anti-choice law, and hopefully, it will also be the last state to.