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Nebraska Further Reduces Abortion Access

Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman signed two bills into law today that will restrict women's access to abortion in the state. Nebraska is now the first state to restrict access to abortion by requiring a doctor to screen women for any mental or physical problems before they perform the procedure. The second new law outlaws abortion after 20 weeks.

The first law (see PDF), sponsored by state Senator Cap Dierks (I), requires a doctor or other health professional to screen women to determine whether or not they were pressured into having an abortion, as well as assess "any risk factors cited in peer-reviewed journals indexed by two major medical and scientific listing services during the year before a planned abortion." These risk factors include "physical, psychological, emotional, demographic, or situational" factors, according to the Associated Press. The law holds doctors civilly responsible if a screening fails to be comprehensive.

The second bill (see PDF) signed by the governor today, reduces the latest point where abortion is legal to 20 weeks, based on the fetus's possible ability to feel pain. The Beatrice Daily Sun, however, reports that the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists "says it knows of no legitimate evidence that fetuses can experience pain."

Prior to the passage of the new law, Nebraska law restricted abortion after the age of viability, which occurs on a case-by-case basis, but is generally accepted to be between 22 and 24 weeks.
Under this new law, abortions after the 20th week would only be permissible "to avert death or to avert serious risk of substantial and irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function." The law also cites "substantial evidence that abortion methods used at and after 20 weeks would cause substantial pain to an unborn child" as the reason for the ban.

Nebraska state Legislature Speaker Mike Flood (R). decided to introduce the bill after Dr. Leroy Carhart, a Nebraska abortion provider, announced his intention to continue the work of Dr. George Tiller last summer. Dr. Carhart was a close friend and colleague of Dr. George Tiller, who was murdered in May 2009 at his church. Dr. Tiller was one of the few late abortion providers in the country. Prior to the murder, Dr. Carhart provided late abortions at Tiller's clinic, Women's Health Care Services, in Wichita, Kansas.

The new law's absence of any exceptions for mental health and the fetal pain basis for the law "unquestionably casts this legislation into the status of unconstitutionality," said state Senator Brenda Council (I) of Omaha. "It will almost surely be challenged in court," reported the Beatrice Daily Sun.

Media Resources: Nebraska Legislature LB594; Associated Press 4/13/10; Nebraska Legislature LB1103; Beatrice Daily Sun 4/9/10; Feminist Daily Newswire 4/1/10

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