abortion: medical officials say the requirement is unclear on many fronts.
st. Paul - minnesota doctors were trying to figure how to implement the new "unborn child pain prevention act," which requires physicians who perform abortions to offer anesthesia for late-term fetuses.
Abortion foes applauded the passage of the act last week by the minnesota legislature as part of a major health bill, but it has raised many questions for doctors specializing in prenatal medicine.
"i think we're all in favor of making sure a fetus doesn't feel pain, but it's not such a simple issue," said Dr. Daniel landers, director of maternal and fetal medicine at fairview-university medical center in minneapolis.
For example, he said it hasn't been scientifically determined when fetal pain begins, nor is there an accepted definition of fetal pain.
"we don't have enough information on how to regulate or diminish pain in a fetus, in terms of drugs, dosing, methods of administration and ability to discern its effectiveness," landers said.
The law also doesn't say what sort of medical specialist should deliver the anesthesia, give a way to measure effectiveness, or explain why a late-term fetus should get anesthesia but remain silent about in utero surgery or forceps deliveries.
Scott fischbach, executive director of minnesota citizens concerned for life, said that by the 20th week of pregnancy, all the biological systems are in place for a fetus to feel pain.
He said the new law builds on the state's "women's right to know" law, which requires abortion providers to give certain information to women seeking the procedure. A woman's right to request anesthesia will now be among that information.
"women already are being told that the baby can feel pain," fischbach said. "now they're given the option to alleviate that pain."
minnesota is the second state to adopt a fetal-pain law, fischbach said. Arkansas was the first.
Some abortion-rights advocates say the law is another way to discourage women from having abortions, and fischbach doesn't deny it.
"clearly, we want to prevent the pain," he said, "but it's another opportunity for us to talk about the humanity of the child."
nonetheless, unlike many other parts of the abortion debate, the fetal-pain law got bipartisan support at the state capitol.
Naral pro-choice minnesota didn't actively oppose it and the minnesota medical society dropped its protests after language was removed that would have allowed doctors to be charged with a felony if they failed to offer the anesthesia.
Under the current law, they could instead face civil penalties.
The law will most directly affect hospitals that abort late-term fetuses due to abnormalities, because most abortion clinics in the state don't perform abortions after the first trimester.
For example, sarah stoesz, executive director of planned parenthood of minnesota, said her group has 22 clinics but only one performs abortions, and only during the first trimester or pregnancy.
Of the 13,788 abortions performed last year in minnesota, only 171 were on fetuses 20 weeks old or older.