Abortion took center stage in the nation’s political and medical debates this week.
A trio of actions took place that involved everything from medical services, to prescription pills, to crime and punishment.
On Monday, Utah’s governor signed a law that requires anesthesia to be administered to any woman having an abortion after 20 weeks of gestation.
On Wednesday morning, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) eased restrictions on an abortion pill formerly known as RU-486.
Then, on Wednesday evening, an MSNBC interview with Donald Trump was aired in which the Republican presidential candidate said women who obtained illegal abortions should be somehow punished.
These incidents provoked reactions from organizations that both support and oppose abortion rights.
The Utah Law
The law signed by Utah Gov. Gary Herbert would require medical providers to administer anesthesia to any woman receiving an abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy.
The governor’s reason for supporting the law was that he believed fetuses could feel pain after 20 weeks.
Using anesthesia would help ensure the fetus was free of pain, the governor said.
Jon Cox, a spokesman for Herbert, said in an email statement to Healthline that the governor was taking a humane approach on the issue.
"The governor is adamantly pro-life. He believes in not only erring on the side of life but also minimizing any pain that may be caused to an unborn child," Cox said.
However, abortion rights groups quickly countered by saying there is no scientific proof that a 20-week-old fetus feels pain.
They pointed to a 2005 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) that stated that “fetal perception of pain is unlikely before the third trimester.”
The study’s authors said anesthesia “should not be recommended or routinely offered for abortion” because the benefits to the fetus are unfounded and the procedure could present risks to the patient.
Abortion rights advocates accused the governor and the bill’s supporters of using the technique to try to ban abortions after 20 weeks.
“It is outrageous that politicians are once again insisting on interfering in a woman’s ability to make personal decisions about her pregnancy in consultation with her doctor and others she trusts. This law is not based in science. These bills are part of a broader agenda to ban abortion completely,” Karrie Galloway, president and chief executive officer of Planned Parenthood, said in an email statement to Healthline.
Dr. Anne Davis, the consulting medical director for Physicians for Reproductive Health, told CNN that no ethical doctor is going to give anesthesia to a woman having an abortion because of the possibility of doing harm to the patient.
Abortion advocates also questioned the need for the new law.
Currently, Utah law prohibits abortion after the fetus becomes viable at 22 weeks.
In addition, the Salt Lake City Tribune reported there were only 17 abortions after the 20-week mark in Utah in 2014.
Two days later, FDA officials relaxed restrictions on mifepristone, a drug used to terminate pregnancy.
The changes reduced the recommended dosage from 600 milligrams to 200 milligrams.
The FDA also decreased the number of doctor visits required for women taking the drug from three to two.
The new rules also extended the time a woman can legally take mifepristone from seven weeks into pregnancy to 10 weeks.
Abortion rights advocates say the changes bring the federal requirements more in line with current medical expertise.
“This is a major shift both in closing the gap between science and legal regulation and in enabling women to exercise their constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy,” Suzanne B. Goldberg, a law professor at Columbia University who specializes in sexuality and gender law, told The New York Times.
However, antiabortion groups were outraged by the action.
“It appears this has been done for the convenience and the profitability of the abortion industry,” Randall O’Bannon, the director of education and research for the National Right to Life Committee, told The Times.
Some states have already passed laws that place restrictions on the use of mifepristone.
Some require licensed physicians to administer the drug instead of nurses or physician assistants. Others require the prescribing physician to be present when the medication is given, according to The Times.
The loudest reaction of the week, however, may have been on Wednesday evening during an interview between Trump and MSNBC journalist Chris Matthews.
During the town hall setting, Matthews pressed Trump on a number of issues.
When the topic turned to abortion, Matthews questioned Trump on whether he thinks abortions should be banned. When Trump said he did, Matthews asked the Republican presidential candidate if he felt there should be some sort of punishment if abortion were illegal.
Trump responded by saying that under those circumstances women who seek abortions should face “some sort of punishment,” although he said he wasn’t sure what that should be.
Several hours later, Trump backpedaled.
In a statement on his website, the candidate said if abortion was illegal, the person performing the abortion should be held legally responsible, not the patient.
Other presidential candidates quickly denounced Trump’s statement.
“Of course, women shouldn’t be punished,” said Ohio Gov. John Kasich.
“Once again, Donald Trump has demonstrated that he hasn’t seriously thought through the issues, and he’ll say anything just to get attention,” added Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) in a statement on his website.
Abortion rights advocates were harsher in their criticism.
“Donald Trump’s clear disregard for women’s health and lives is staggering,” said Deirdre Schifeling, executive director of a Planned Parenthood political action committee (PAC), said in a statement.
That committee, in fact, started posting ads on Thursday showing Trump’s broadcasted remarks.
“We have too much to lose to let him win,” states the ad, which is running on Facebook and Instagram and targeting women in Ohio, Florida, and Washington, D.C.
Antiabortion groups also joined in the chorus, saying Trump’s comments didn’t reflect what pro-life groups believe.
“No pro-lifer would ever want to punish a woman who has chosen abortion,” Jeanne Mancini, the president of the March for Life Education and Defense Fund, told The New York Times. “We invite a woman who has gone down this route to consider paths to healing, not punishment.”