Women who receive an abortion in Utah after they've reached the 20th week of their pregnancy can expect to do so heavily sedated: On Monday, Gov. Gary Herbert signed into law a bill requiring anesthesia for patients who reach this mark, USA Today reports. The "Protecting Unborn Children" mandate is the first of its kind to pass in the US, rekindling a debate as to whether a fetus can feel pain at that point in the gestational cycle. (The Washington Post notes a review of more than 300 studies shows the fetus likely doesn't perceive pain before 28 weeks.) The governor "believes in not only erring on the side of life, but also minimizing any pain that may be caused to an unborn child," a spokesman for Herbert said in a statement.
The law wouldn't apply in cases where anesthesia could hurt the mother, if the abortion was needed to save the mother's life, or if the fetus suffered from a congenital defect that would prove fatal, per the AP and USA Today. Other states have tried for similar laws and failed; a dozen states ban abortion after between 20 and 22 weeks, while others offer the option of anesthesia. Critics note the law could be applied in cases where labor is induced, such as with pre-eclampsia or when a woman's due date has passed. State Sen. Curt Bramble, who sponsored the bill, argues anesthesia is used in other situations in Utah, such as for convicts put to death and animals being put down, so this law simply maintains consistency. "We go to extraordinary lengths in Utah to prevent the pain of an individual sentenced to death," he says.