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Bill to require anesthesia for a fetus before some abortions

FILE - State Senator Curt Bramble shares his support during a rally to encourage the defunding of Planned Parenthood at the Utah State Capitol in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Aug. 19, 2015. Bramble is working on legislation that would require doctors to a
FILE - State Senator Curt Bramble shares his support during a rally to encourage the defunding of Planned Parenthood at the Utah State Capitol in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Aug. 19, 2015. Bramble is working on legislation that would require doctors to administer anesthesia to a fetus before an abortion based on the premise that the fetus can feel pain.
Stacie Scott, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — A Utah senator is working on legislation that would require doctors to administer anesthesia to a fetus before an abortion based on the premise that the fetus can feel pain.

Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, asked that legislative staff begin writing the bill Tuesday. The lawmaker did not have any draft language available and said that he's still determining at what point in the gestational process the rule would apply.

Montana lawmakers passed a similar law in 2015 requiring fetal anesthesia before surgeries, including abortion, performed after 20 or more weeks of gestation. Montana's Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock vetoed the measure, saying it substituted the Legislature's beliefs for the medical judgments of doctors and patients.

Bramble, who also serves as president of the National Conference of State Legislatures, said he didn't know Tuesday if any other states were considering a similar law.

Utah law already requires a woman to be given the option of having an anesthetic or analgesic administered to a fetus before an abortion occurring after 20 weeks of gestation.

Karrie Galloway, CEO of Planned Parenthood Association of Utah, said Bramble's proposal to require it is a political decision about a medical procedure. "Obviously, he wants to insert his political opinion in a private decision between a woman and her physician," she said.

Bramble said his bill is in lieu of an effort he abandoned that would have banned abortions after the time when a fetus can feel pain. When he announced the effort last fall, Bramble declined to specify what stage of development his proposal would target.

Twelve states ban abortions after around 20 weeks of gestation based on the disputed premise that a fetus can feel pain at that stage, according to the abortion-rights nonprofit Guttmacher Institute.

Courts have struck down similar bans, ruling they violate the U.S. Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that a woman has a constitutionally protected right to terminate a pregnancy before a fetus is able to survive outside the womb.

The viability of a fetus is generally considered to start at 24 weeks. Normal pregnancies run about 40 weeks.

Utah passed a 20-week ban in 1991, but it was later struck down in the courts.

Bramble said Tuesday that he was abandoning his push for a ban after legislative staffers warned him it would likely be unconstitutional. He said he believes an anesthesia requirement won't face the same potential problem.

Statistics from the state health department showed about 99 percent of the 2,767 abortions performed in Utah were at or before 20 weeks of gestation in 2014, the most recent data available. About 82 percent of all abortions that year occurred within the first 10 weeks.