Gov. Gary Herbert signed into law Monday a bill that would require doctors to administer anesthesia when performing an abortion during a pregnancy between the 20th and 27th weeks of gestation.
Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, argued that a fetus can feel pain after 20 weeks and that, if the procedure was going to be performed, doctors should ensure the fetus is free of pain. Bramble had initially planned to ban abortions after 20 weeks, but he was told such a move would be unconstitutional.
The new law is the first in the nation to require doctors to give anesthesia to women having an abortion at 20 weeks of pregnancy or later.
There is dispute about whether the fetus feels pain, but Herbert had said during the legislative session that it makes sense to err on the side of caution.
"Rather than get into the abortion debate, I guess the question is: If we're going to have abortion, what is the most humane way to do it?" Herbert told reporters during the session.
Karrie Galloway, executive director of Planned Parenthood of Utah, said it is an example of the governor and Bramble, who is an accountant, inserting their judgment in the place of a woman's physician.
"You're talking to a woman who is being told that Curt Bramble, a CPA, is better at practicing medicine than the physician I have chosen. That's what's infuriating," Galloway said.
The impact would not be widespread. Just 17 women aborted a pregnancy after 20 weeks in 2014, the most recent year for which numbers were available. Planned Parenthood is the only provider in the state that will perform the procedure in that window, Galloway said.
Abortions are prohibited in the state after the point when the fetus is viable, which is between 22 and 24 weeks.
Galloway said she was most frustrated that Bramble refused to talk to fetal specialists and listen to those who testified at the legislative hearing on the bill, people Galloway said were "treated so shabbily."
"I mean, we have fetal medical specialists speaking and they were discounted by a citizen who said, 'I read it on the Internet and therefore it must be true,' " Galloway said. "That's how we do policy here in Utah."
The governor also signed a bill Monday that would implement a sweeping new land-use policy for areas the state would take over from the federal government as part of its effort to stake a claim to more than 30 million acres of federal lands in Utah.
The lands bill would create a new state agency to manage land that is now federal control — if the state receives 100,000 acres of such territory. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Mike Noel, would direct the agency to manage the land for multiple uses, which could include conservation and even wilderness designations.
Herbert also signed into law HB155, which makes it a crime for a computer technician to refuse to report child pornography on a workplace computer, and SB59, which requires employers to make reasonable accommodations for a woman who is breastfeeding to pump her breast milk at the workplace.
The Associated Press contributed to this report