The governor of Utah has signed a bill requiring women to undergo an anesthetic if they have an abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy to ensure the fetus “does not feel pain”.
Republican Gary Herbert has argued that after five months a fetus can feel pain and doctors will be legally required to give their female patients anesthesia.
The procedure was optional before in Utah, now it will be mandatory.
Senator Curt Bramble, who proposed the law, originally tried to ban abortion after 20 weeks but was told such a measure would likely be unconstitutional, as reported by AP.
“The governor is adamantly pro-life. He believes in not only erring on the side of life, but also minimising any pain that may be caused to an unborn child,” Mr Herbert’s spokesman Jon Cox said.
Opponents of the bill say it could increase health risks to women by giving them unnecessary sedation to protect a fetus from pain – pain which is so far scientifically unproven.
General anesthesia makes the woman unconscious and would require a breathing tube or a heavy dose of narcotics, according to Dr Sean Esplin of Intermountain Healthcare in Utah.
This bill would be the first of its kind in the US, after a similar law introduced in Montana last year was vetoed by the Democratic governor.
It is increasingly difficult, however, for women to have an abortion the later the pregnancy. In 12 states abortion is illegal after 20 weeks.
In Utah women can abort their pregnancies for up to 22 weeks of gestation.
The anesthesia will not apply to women whose lives are in danger by their pregnancy or if the fetus would nor survive outside the womb.