Planned Parenthood of the Heartland filed a federal lawsuit Monday against Nebraska leaders, claiming a state law passed in April places requirements on abortion providers that are unconstitutional and impossible to meet.
"This act is an attack on our patients," said Jill June, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, which provides services in Iowa and Nebraska. "This act is an attack on providers, and it is an attack on the ethics and integrity of the medical profession."
Planned Parenthood filed the suit in U.S. District Court in Lincoln, seeking to stop implementation of LB594, which requires doctors to inform patients of possible risk factors related to abortions.
Doctors who fail to discuss risk factors could be sued in civil court. The law takes effect July 15.
State officials named in the lawsuit include Gov. Dave Heineman, Attorney General Jon Bruning and Department of Health and Human Services CEO Kerry Winterer. Heineman's office referred questions to Bruning's office Monday. Bruning spokesman Allen Forkner said the attorney general's office was still reviewing the lawsuit.
"We will defend the state against this lawsuit," he said.
Mimi Liu, attorney for Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said the Nebraska law would require abortion providers to conduct an exhaustive review of literature related to any potential risk factors, regardless of whether such literature has been accepted by the medical profession.
She cited as an example studies that show a link between abortion and breast cancer -- debunked by such leading medical organizations as the National Cancer Institute and American Cancer Society -- as the kind of information doctors would have to present to patients.
"Since it is impossible to comply, there is one way, and only one way, that a physician can be certain he or she is not violating LB594: Cease providing abortion care," Liu said by phone from Washington, D.C., during a Monday morning news conference in Lincoln.
"That amounts to a ban on a woman's right to choose to terminate her pregnancy."
But Greg Schleppenbach, director of pro-life activity for the Nebraska Catholic Conference, said LB594 clearly describes what kind of literature abortion providers must review and provide to patients. Such literature needs to be peer-reviewed and likely would involve reviewing about six studies a year.
The law, he said, was meant to protect patients by requiring abortion providers to inform them of risk factors, a common practice in the medical profession.
"This is trying to create some level of standard of care in abortion facilities," Schleppenbach said. "Their concerns ring very hollow."
Dave Bydalek, executive director of Family First, said LB594 protects women by requiring doctors to screen them to determine whether they were pressured into getting abortions.
He cited a recent report by the Elliot Institute that showed 64 percent of women who get abortions are coerced by family or others. The Elliot Institute is a nonprofit corporation founded in 1988 to perform original research and education on the impact of abortion on women, men, siblings and society, according to its website.
LB594 does not prevent any woman from getting an abortion, Bydalek said.
"It gives them the best information so they can make the most informed choice possible," he said.
Dr. Leroy Carhart, a Bellevue abortion provider, said the bill is vague and devalues physicians' expertise and medical judgment in favor of policymakers' judgment.
"Abortion is a decision that should be left to a woman and her physician," he said. "Hopefully, the courts will see through this latest attempt by anti-choice politicians to suppress women's rights by legislating their reproductive choices."
June wouldn't say Monday if Planned Parenthood plans to file a lawsuit seeking to overturn a second abortion bill passed by the Nebraska Legislature this spring.
That bill, LB1103, was based on the presumption a fetus can feel pain at a certain point in development. It prohibits abortion if the fetus is 20 weeks past fertilization, except when the abortion would preserve the life of the mother or an additional fetus in the womb.
The notion that a fetus at that stage of development can feel pain is controversial, and supporters and opponents have brought forth contradicting science.
Reach Kevin Abourezk at 402-473-7225 or firstname.lastname@example.org.