A contentious hearing Tuesday night pitted doctors against lawmakers over what the doctors should be required to say to women seeking abortions.
Senate Bill 234
from Sen. Curtis Bramble, R-Provo, would require doctors to administer anesthesia to fetuses when a woman has an abortion after 20 weeks. It also requires the doctors tell the women that the fetus may feel pain.
“If I could repeal Roe v. Wade
, I would,” Sen. Bramble told members of the House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice committee. “But since I can’t, if we’re going to forfeit the life of a child we at least ought to have the humanity to protect them from pain. … I believe we have a sacred, fiduciary responsibility to take care of the most vulnerable among us.”
Bramble says that the science is inconclusive on whether a 20 weeks old fetus can feel pain, so “to be on the safe side” heavy anesthesia should be administered.
But administering the anesthetic, three maternal-fetal doctors from Intermountain Healthcare and the University of Utah told the committee, can be extremely risky to the woman, including a “high risk of aspirating and death.” And while they agreed that the science is inconclusive that a 20 week fetus being pain-capable, the words lawmakers are seeking to force them to tell their patients are inaccurate and misleading. Doctors Alexandra Eller, Sean Esplin, and Doug Richard had strong words for committee members.
“I don’t want to be required to tell my patients things that are untrue,” Dr. Richard told lawmakers. Esplin agreed, adding that “I wouldn’t come up here and testify about a tax bill because I’m not a tax expert; but on this subject I am and this isn’t truthful with patients.”
Sen. Curtis Bramble, R-Provo.
Right now, the three doctors testified, women having abortions after 20 weeks are given the option of choosing fetal anesthesia, and the risks are fully explained so that the woman can make an informed choice. “You’re now mandating [women] take that risk, based on inconclusive and biased evidence. You don’t understand what you’re legislating,” Dr. Esplin said.
Bramble acknowledged that there may be some risk, saying “It may be true a woman may feel physical or emotional pain, but we have to balance that with the pain of the unborn baby.”
Maryann Christensen of the Utah Eagle Forum agreed, saying that she had seen studies showing that fetuses can feel pain as early as eight to 10 weeks. “The earlier babies are delivered, the stronger their reaction to pain,” Christensen said. “I think every abortion ends up in death, the death of the baby, a baby that’s the result of an activity which tends to make babies.”
Kate Kelly of Planned Parenthood of Utah said the organization strongly opposes the bill. “The sole purpose of [this bill],” Kelly testified, “is to frighten and stigmatize women who choose [an abortion.] Abortion has been safe and legal in Utah for 40 years, and we will not go back.”
In his closing statement, Sen. Bramble recalled former Utah Speaker Becky Lockhart, who passed away in 2015 from a rare neurodegenerative disorder. “In the final weeks of her life, after [the disease] had destroyed her brain… doctors were still giving her pain medication. They didn’t know whether she could feel pain or not. But it was the humane thing to do.”
SB 234 successfully passed the committee by a vote of 7 to 4, with Representatives Romero, Hollins, Redd, and McIff voting against. “I can’t support this bill after hearing from the medical professionals,” Romero said.