Utah will be the first state to require "fetal anesthesia" before an abortion, according to a New York Times report.
Utah Gov. Gary R. Herbert and its Republican-led legislature passed the law in March and will take effect in late May.
A woman seeking an abortion 20 weeks or more into the pregnancy will be required to be given painkillers or anesthesia. The drugs are intended for the fetus.
The science of when a fetus can feel pain has become a political issue. Most scientists do not believe fetuses feel pain. A report by the International Fetal Medicine and Surgery Society said 24 weeks is the threshold at which fetuses can feel pain, according to a separate New York Times report.
The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists said that the number is 27 weeks, according to the Times.
Some obstetricians and maternal care doctors said the law is vague and not based on science. Dr. Leah Torres told the Times that to perform fetal anesthesia was like being asked, "to invent a procedure that doesn't have any research to back it up."
"We don't know what to do," Torres said in the Times, and she wondered, "How do we not break this law?"
Torres also said no guidelines were given about how much anesthesia to give. Many women already get anesthesia or painkillers in surgical abortions, and those drugs naturally already pass to the fetus.
A spokesman for Utah's Health Department said it left decisions about anesthesia and painkillers up to doctors, but doctors are required to issue a fetal-pain warning to patients who are considering abortions.
Dr. Alexandra Grosvenor Eller said abortions after 20 weeks are more likely because of fatal problems with the fetus. "This is an egregious attempt to tell us how to practice medicine," Eller said in the Times report.
Dr. Torres sought advice on Twitter from Utah's Gov. Herbert. She said she has not yet gotten a response.
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