Judge blocks new Nebraska abortion screening law

2010-07-14T17:30:00Z 2010-08-18T12:06:17Z Judge blocks new Nebraska abortion screening lawBy JoANNE YOUNG / Lincoln Journal Star JournalStar.com

A first-of-its-kind abortion law goes into effect in Nebraska on Thursday, but its enforcement has been temporarily halted.

U.S. District Judge Laurie Smith Camp ruled Wednesday that Sen. M.L. "Cap" Dierks's bill (LB594), which provides for preabortion screenings and counseling, creates a profound chilling effect on doctors' willingness to perform abortions. And, she said in her ruling, it creates substantial obstacles to a woman's right to choose abortion.

The bill, which was signed into law in April, says existing preabortion screening and counseling is not always adequate to protect the health needs of women.

The new law adds to 36 informed consent requirements already in place and was created to prevent abortion without the voluntary and informed consent of the woman.

"The purpose of the bill appears to be the preservation of unborn human life through the creation of substantial, likely insurmountable, obstacles in the path of women seeking abortions in Nebraska," Smith Camp wrote.

Medical providers would be required to speculate about the law's meaning, she said, and that would place them in jeopardy of "crippling" civil lawsuits. That would put women in jeopardy of losing access to doctors willing to perform abortions, Smith Camp said.

It is inevitable some women would come to regret their decision to have an abortion, she said, and LB594 would provide those women targets to blame, and financial incentive to file lawsuits.

Even though Dierks said on the floor the bill did not impose screening requirements contrary to those of other medical procedures, that is "flatly contrary" to the language of the bill, Smith Camp said.

Planned Parenthood is likely to succeed in its claims doctors will have trouble knowing their legal responsibilities and have difficulty being able to comply with the law, she said.

Dierks was disappointed by the ruling.

"But I'm hopeful that when push comes to shove, Attorney General (Jon) Bruning will bring us through this," he said.

Shannon Kingery, director of communications for Bruning, said it is the office's duty to defend laws passed by the Legislature, and it will respect Smith Camp's ruling.

"We are currently reviewing our options to determine the next course of action," she said.

Dierks said he is confident the bill didn't do anything to hurt the abortion process. It was meant as a common-sense solution to protect women seeking abortions and their doctors, he said.

Jill June, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, said the law would force doctors to give untruthful, misleading or irrelevant information in their attempts to comply.

"That simply cannot be allowed to happen," June said. "When it comes to what doctors will tell patients, they need to be telling the truth."

The law could actually harm women by providing false information, such as old research on risks and complications of abortion that since have been disproved, she said.

Greg Schleppenbach, state director of the Bishops' Pastoral Plan for Pro-Life Activities, said it is important women be given relevant and important information on potential postabortion complications, and that the information be specific to their medical histories.

There's a strong indication that is not being done in doctors' offices today, he said, given the assembly-line process of abortion.

"I believe women are not being given that information," Schleppenbach said.

It is also important that women not feel they are being coerced into having abortions, he said.

In his opinion, Schleppenbach said, the language of the bill is quite clear on how doctors can fulfill the requirements of the law.

Lincoln Sen. Danielle Conrad stood for hours on the floor of the Legislature when the bill was being debated to create a record of what she saw as flaws in the pending law.

"LB594 did nothing more than insert politics into the the doctor-patient relationship, where it shouldn't be," she said Wednesday.

Conrad said she felt then and now that supporters and opponents of abortion can have a respectful difference of opinion and put energy into policies that will prevent and reduce the number of abortions.

Smith Camp's ruling can be used as a call to action to seek common ground, she said.

Pursuing and defending flawed policies such as LB594, Conrad said, is wasting energy and taxpayer money, especially in difficult economic times.

The Legislature passed another abortion bill this year that will go into effect in October. LB1103 bans abortions 20 weeks from conception or after unless the woman is experiencing a true medical emergency. The act does not consider a woman's mental health and was based on the idea that a fetus can feel pain at that stage of development.

Planned Parenthood's June said the organization is considering what, if any, action would be appropriate on that bill.

Reach JoAnne Young at 402-473-7228 or jyoung@journalstar.com.

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