One of the nation's few late-term abortion providers is considering where he will practice as Nebraska moves toward implementing new restrictions on the procedure and Kansas takes steps aimed at keeping him out.
Dr. LeRoy Carhart is exploring all his options, a spokeswoman for the Omaha-area doctor said Thursday, in light of a first-of-its-kind bill in the country expected to be approved in Nebraska within the next week. Partially aimed at shutting Carhart down, it would ban abortions at and after 20 weeks of pregnancy based on the assertion that fetuses feel pain at that time.
The criteria now used in Nebraska and elsewhere to block abortions is the viability of the fetus, or the ability to live outside the womb.
"He doesn't have plans to leave, but is exploring his options," said Carhart's spokeswoman, Dionne Scott of the Center for Reproductive Rights. Asked if he might begin practicing in Kansas, she said "we are not saying Kansas is out of the question."
"We will end up choosing the option that best serves women," she said.
While Nebraska lawmakers are trying to get Carhart to leave, Kansas lawmakers are trying to prevent him from coming there to replace his friend and fellow late-term abortion provider Dr. George Tiller, who was shot to death in Wichita last year. A week ago, Scott Roeder was sentenced to life in prison with no possibility of parole for 50 years for gunning Tiller down. Roeder said he killed Tiller to obey "God's law" to save babies.
Kansas lawmakers recently approved a bill that would require doctors to list an exact medical diagnosis justifying a late-term abortion. It adjusts the definition of viability so that a fetus would be considered viable if there's a "reasonable probability" it would survive outside the womb with life-sustaining measures such as an incubator.
Also, it codifies a state rule that the required second opinion on whether late-term abortions are necessary come from doctors in Kansas. And it would allow a woman or girl - or family members, in the case of a minor - to sue a doctor if they have evidence that a late-term abortion was illegal.
Kansas Gov. Mark Parkinson, a Democrat who supports abortion rights, must decide within the next week whether to allow it to become law. His spokesman wouldn't comment Thursday on the governor's plans.
Scott wouldn't say if that becoming law would keep Carhart from Kansas, but repeated that moving to the state is not out of the question.
Should the Kansas bill become law, and the Nebraska bill is approved as expected, abortion restrictions in Kansas would be less strict than in Nebraska in a couple of significant ways.
Even if the Kansas proposal is enacted, abortions there would still be restricted at and after the 22nd week of pregnancy, if the fetus was viable. The Nebraska measure proposes a cutoff at 20 weeks. Under current law in Nebraska, Carhart has said he provides abortions to women who are up to 22 weeks pregnant, and abortions after that are performed if medically necessary.
Another key difference should proposals in both states become law: Women in Nebraska couldn't use mental health problems as a reason to have abortions after the 20-week mark. In Kansas, mental health problems can allow for abortions beyond the normal cutoff time.
A separate bill approved by the Kansas House of Representatives would prohibit late-term abortions on viable fetuses for mental health reasons. The Senate has yet to consider it and may not this year.
Associated Press writer John Hanna in Topeka, Kan., contributed to this report.