A bill that would require doctors to tell women having medication abortions about the possibility of continuing their pregnancies, even after taking the first of two abortion drugs, hit a wall in the Legislature on Monday.
The bill (LB209) as amended would have doctors inform women that the Department of Health and Human Services publishes materials that provide information on finding immediate medical assistance if they change their minds about aborting a fetus after taking that first drug, mifepristone.
Fifty-five percent of abortions in Nebraska are done with RU486 pills. Up to half of women who take only mifepristone continue their pregnancies, according to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
The organization said legislative mandates based on unproven, unethical research are dangerous to women’s health.
Supporters of LB209 believe treatment with progesterone after taking mifepristone can save a pregnancy. Opponents believe taking large amounts of progesterone can be dangerous, and letting nature take its course would be a better choice if a woman decides to continue her pregnancy.
Debate on Monday hit the three-hour mark with no vote, but Sen. Joni Albrecht, the bill's sponsor, said she has more than the 33 votes required to break a filibuster. Albrecht said she hoped the bill would come back sooner rather than later in the session to finish up debate — possibly three more hours — and get to a first-round vote.
The Judiciary Committee amended the bill before sending it for debate in order not to force doctors to give information to women that is not scientifically proven. Chairman Steve Lathrop said there was a constitutional problem with the language, since the state cannot force someone to say something they don't believe to be true.
Senators also amended the bill to have the Department of Health and Human Services require a reporting form on every attempt at continuing a pregnancy after taking mifepristone.
The form would require the age of the woman, facility where the procedure was performed, type of service given, any complications, name of the medical professional and other information.
Opponents of the bill, including Lincoln Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks, said women are not free until they can make all decisions about their futures and not have the heavy hand of government weighing in, having doctors tell their female patients "what's what."
"Why aren't we telling the men what's what? What about vasectomies?" she said. "I think we'd better have informed consent on vasectomies pursuant to our laws, and require each man to fully understand that vasectomies are reversible."
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It's audacious to say women can't make their own medical decisions, or that they need to be helped along by the government, she said.
Omaha Sen. Megan Hunt said the number of people in the Legislature who are qualified to decide what should happen between a physician and patient is zero.
Omaha Sen. Sara Howard expressed her "deep, deep disappointment" with the Nebraska Medical Association for changing its opposition to the bill to a neutral position.
Last year, she said, bills that required physicians to talk to patients about the addictive nature of opioids, and to limit prescription of opioids to minors, were opposed by the medical association because doctors said they did not like legislative mandates.
"If you have a position about mandates, you should stick to it," Howard said. "Either something has merit or it doesn't."
Amy Reynoldson, Nebraska Medical Association executive vice president, said the association did oppose LB209 in a letter sent March 19 for the hearing. The letter said abortion "reversal" treatments are not based on science and do not meet clinical standards.
"No reliable medical evidence supports the claim that a medication abortion can be 'reversed,' and no major medical associations have endorsed such a process," the letter said.
Laws that undermine the physician-patient relationship or subject people to medical care that is not evidence-based threaten public health and compromise a doctor's ability to practice medicine according to the standard of care, the association said.
Reynoldson said after the committee amended the bill, the association changed its position on the bill to neutral, and informed senators of that on April 24.
"That mandate changed, and it now contained medically accurate, mutually agreeable language related to the drug that they've been talking about, that LB209 really centers on," she said.