Fetal Pain

If you are seeking an abortion and you are 20 weeks or more pregnant (by gestational age, or LMP) – Utah law requires that you get information about possible pain that the fetus may feel during the procedure, unless this procedure has to be performed for emergency reasons.

Does an unborn fetus feel pain?
Some studies support that a fetus can feel pain by 20 weeks after conception. Other studies suggest that pain is felt by the fetus later in pregnancy. Although scientific studies are not conclusive as to when a fetus’ nervous system is developed enough to feel pain, the State of Utah feels that there is substantial medical evidence from studies concluding that a fetus of at least 20 weeks gestational age (LMP) may be capable of experiencing pain during an abortion procedure.

Utah law requirements

Beginning May 10, 2016, Utah code 76-7-308.5 requires any physician who performs an abortion on an unborn child of at least 20 weeks gestational age (LMP) to administer an anesthetic or analgesic to eliminate pain to the fetus. Exceptions to this law are abortions done to save the life of the mother, irreversible impairment of a major bodily function of the mother will occur unless an abortion is performed, or a lethal birth defect of the fetus has been confirmed by two maternal-fetal medicine specialists.

How is the medicine given?

Medicine to lessen or take away pain can be given to the fetus in a couple of ways. One is by injecting a pain medicine or an anesthesia medicine directly to the fetus through a needle. The other is to give the medicine to the woman so it goes to the fetus.

Is the medicine effective to control pain?

The medicines that would be used are effective to control or eliminate pain in children and adults. There is no evidence to know if the effect in a fetus is the same.

What are the risks to the woman?

There are always some risks when a person takes medicines, especially pain and anesthetic medicines. The woman should discuss these risks with their healthcare provider. A healthcare provider is not prohibited by Utah laws from informing the woman of his/her own opinion regarding the administration of medicine to lessen or take away fetal pain.

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