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A New Anti-Choice Montana Law Would Treat Women Like Lab Rats

The law would require that anesthesia be administered to the fetus before the abortion begins, even though there's no hard evidence proving that fetuses feel pain until the third trimester or 27 weeks.
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Ever since anti-choice conservatives realized that banning abortion outright was legally unfeasible, they figured out that the best way to confront the issue would be to make it as difficult as possible for women to undergo the totally legal medical procedure. The roster of proposals are familiar: mandatory transvaginal ultrasounds, fetal personhood laws, parental notification and rules that require clinic to be located within a certain distance of a hospital.

In the Montana state legislature, there's a relatively new and bizarre law along these lines in the works. You might've heard a thing or two about the idea of "fetal pain." Anti-choice activists insist that after 20 weeks of gestation, fetuses can feel pain. Consequently, laws have passed in around 12 states banning all abortions after 20 weeks. Montana, however, is taking a very different approach.

Instead of an outright ban on all abortions after 20 weeks, Montana legislator Albert Olszewski drafted H.B. 479, the Montana Unborn Child Pain and Suffering Prevention Act. Olszewski's law would require that anesthesia be administered to the fetus before the abortion begins, even though there's no hard evidence proving that fetuses feel pain until the third trimester or 27 weeks.

Why does Olszewski believe it's 20 weeks? Because he's a doctor, of course. An obstetrician, to be exact. Wait. Strike that. Wrong "o" word. He's an orthopedic surgeon. A foot doctor, which clearly gives him all kinds of insight into, I suppose, fetal feet, but not nearly the expertise of the American Medical Association which states clearly:

Evidence regarding the capacity for fetal pain is limited but indicates that fetal perception of pain is unlikely before the third trimester [or 27 weeks]. Little or no evidence addresses the effectiveness of direct fetal anesthetic or analgesic techniques.

And what about the obvious issue of the health of the mother? Do we know what impact anesthetizing a fetus will have on the mother? Nope. So, this law would force women to undergo an untested procedure that may or may not harm them. There's a term for this: lab rats.

What does the AMA say?

Similarly, limited or no data exist on the safety of such techniques for pregnant women in the context of abortion.

But Olszewski is a foot surgeon, so whatever. I wonder if he also thinks women have a way of automatically shutting down rape pregnancies.

Supporters of this legislation also note that anesthesia is administered during fetal surgeries, so why not an abortion? Of course there are significant differences between the anesthesia in a surgery versus what Olszewski is proposing. Chiefly, in a surgery, the anesthesia is given to the mother, while the fetus receives muscle relaxers to keep it immobilized, and fetuses are never directly anesthetized.

And what does the AMA say?

Anesthetic techniques currently used during fetal surgery are not directly applicable to abortion procedures.

In addition to the unknown risk involved in this procedure, anesthesia would also skyrocket the cost of an abortion. On top of everything else, women are basically told that their fetuses can feel pain while they're being terminated -- giving the whole thing a "lethal injection" vibe. The terrible decision-making process is made even more harrowing as women are bullied by mostly male politicians in a far-away state capital, mandating layer upon layer of added intimidation and humiliation. Combined it's a cynical means of dissuading women from having abortions. It's a de facto ban.

And I write all of this as someone who's both pro-choice and anti-abortion. I concede that it's a grisly procedure and if I were a pregnant woman, it'd be extraordinarily difficult for me to choose such an option. However, 1) I'm not a pregnant woman and couldn't possibly understand what it's like to be one, and 2) note the word "choose," because while I wouldn't necessarily choose it, I'd want to reserve the right to decide for myself. That means deciding without Mr. Olszewski and the others telling me I have to submit to government-mandated, untested medical procedures while his party continuously and unironically preaches about keeping big government from coming between me and my doctor.