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Lawmakers discuss abortion bills on both sides

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As abortion foes swarmed the Capitol on Thursday for Pro Life Legislative Day, lawmakers discussed bills touted by those on both sides of the debate.

The Legislature's Judiciary Committee discussed three abortion bills -- two by Sen. Danielle Conrad of Lincoln and one by Sen. Bill Kintner of Papillion.

One Conrad bill (LB1109) would repeal the requirement that a pregnant minor get written, notarized parental consent to have an abortion and simply require that the parents be notified, as Nebraska's law read until 2011.

"Changing the law from notification to consent with notarization has done nothing to help young women talk to their parents about unintended pregnancies," Conrad said. "The only function this change promoted was political and ideological with a clear intent to erect additional undue burdens for young women when they determine abortion is the right decision for them.

"No law can mandate healthy family communication or stable families. Most often, parents know when their daughters are facing an unintended pregnancy, and younger teens are even more likely to involve their parents. Unfortunately, some young women have good reason to fear psychological and physical abuse, and may rightly be concerned that telling their parents about a pregnancy or abortion would precipitate a violent family crisis."

Suzanne Gage, Nebraska state director for Americans United for Life, submitted testimony against the bill.

"Parental consent laws indisputably better protect minors, because parental consent laws are more effective than parental notification laws," she said. "A 2008 study showed that parental consent laws reduce the minor abortion rate by 18.7 percent, while parental notification laws reduce the abortion rate by about 5 percent."

The other Conrad bill had its genesis in a case last year in which a judge in Omaha told a 16-year-old state ward seeking to terminate her pregnancy that having an abortion would “kill the child inside you” and ruled that she was not capable of making such a decision on her own.

Nebraska's parental consent law can be bypassed in medical emergencies, or if the minor is a victim of abuse or neglect or if they can prove to a judge they are mature and well-informed enough to make the decision themselves.

In September, the Nebraska Supreme Court upheld Douglas County District Court Judge Peter Bataillon's ruling rejecting the 16-year-old's request to waive the required parental consent. Bataillon said the girl had not shown she was sufficiently mature and well-informed enough to decide on her own.

She was living in a foster home when a juvenile court terminated the rights of her biological parents because of abuse and neglect. In the hearing before Bataillon, the girl said she was 10 weeks pregnant and would not be able to support a child. She said her foster parents had strong religious beliefs, and she feared she would lose her foster home placement if they learned of her pregnancy.

The girl's lawyer said, among other things, that Bataillon failed to recognize the exception for abuse in the law and that he should have recused himself because he was not impartial, as evidenced by his asking the girl if she knew that, "when you have the abortion, it's going to kill the child inside you."

Current law says a judge could authorize the abortion by determining "by clear and convincing evidence that the pregnant woman is both sufficiently mature and well-informed to decide whether to have an abortion."

Conrad's bill (LB1108) would change the burden of proof.

"If the woman has completed the steps necessary to appear at the judicial bypass hearing," Conrad said, "which could include navigating the legal system, navigating a transportation system, completing the requisite medical counseling concerning abortion, overcoming all obstacles to securing a hearing under this section and providing the court with a coherent explanation as to why she is sufficiently mature to make the decision herself, she will be presumed to be sufficiently mature to give informed consent for the proposed abortion unless the court is presented with credible evidence indicating otherwise."

Gage said that "removing the 'clear and convincing evidence' standard … would enable judges to grant judicial bypass requests without the legal obligation to carefully examine whether bypassing parental consent is in a minor’s best interest."

Kintner's bill (LB1032) would force abortion clinics to post signs that say that it is against the law to force a woman to have an abortion.

"We know of cases across the country of women being forced by boyfriends, spouses, parents and others to have an abortion," he said. "Women are threatened with violence, withdrawal of financial support, loss of housing and even violation of employment and other legal agreements."

Reach Kevin O'Hanlon at 402-473-2682 or kohanlon@journalstar.com.
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