A new Utah law requiring anesthesia for unborn babies during late-term abortions shows the contradiction between society’s view of life and legal abortion, a leading pro-life doctor has said.
“If we as a society say it is okay to put to death the unborn, especially abortions that are done on fetuses that could survive outside the womb, then I think anesthesia is merciful,” Dr. Donna Harrison, executive director of the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists, told CNA March 29.
Legislation based on the concept of fetal pain helps people recognize “that this baby is a human being, a human being that can feel pain just like the rest of us,” said Harrison, who is an obstetrician-gynecologist.
At the same time, she saw a “schizophrenic” approach to fetal pain legislation, especially given that babies can survive outside the womb at 22 weeks into pregnancy.
“What we should do is deliver the baby,” Harrison said. “If the baby can survive outside the mother’s womb, and the mother is incapable of continuing the pregnancy, then we deliver the baby under the best of circumstances and we allow that baby to continue its own life.”
“We don’t just kill it, or deny it care because it’s immature or weak,” she continued. “We as a society need to really look at this incoherent view of life.”
The legislation requires doctors who perform abortions 20 weeks or later into pregnancy to anesthetize the unborn baby. The law makes exceptions for cases in which anesthesia could endanger the mother’s life or in which the baby is not viable. Utah governor Gary Herbert signed the bill into law March 28.
State senator Curt Bramble (R-Provo) was among the bill’s backers.
“This will require that if we are going to take the life of an unborn child… then anesthesia would be required to protect the child from the infliction of pain at the time their life is forfeit,” he said, according to the Salt Lake Tribune.
The senator had initially intended to introduce legislation to ban abortions after 20 weeks, but changed his mind when told such a law would likely be found unconstitutional.
In 2014 there were 17 abortions in Utah conducted after 20 weeks of pregnancy. The legislation drew opposition from Planned Parenthood of Utah, the only provider of late-term abortions in the state.
Dr. Sean Esplin of Intermountain Healthcare in Utah said the law could put the health of women at risk, given that anesthesia would need to be applied to the mother to reach the unborn baby, the Associated Press reports.
Other critics of the bill disputed whether unborn babies can feel pain at 20 weeks.
Harrison thought the evidence was clear.
“It’s unequivocal that a fetus who is undergoing a procedure will have their heart rate increase. They will withdraw from needles or sharp objects. They will have a release of stress hormones,” she said.
She said these are all of the physical reactions measured to say when the human body is reacting to pain. Harrison contended that those who want to deny the humanity of the unborn baby focus on the philosophical idea of suffering rather than “the reality that that baby is withdrawing from painful stimuli.”
“The fetus is not a blob of tissue. It is an immature human being. We were all fetuses at one point,” she said. “Clearly this idea that the fetus doesn’t feel pain is based on the assumption that the fetus is not one of us.”