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Doctors say at least seven women in Nebraska have opted for abortions because they fear they can't afford the cost of prenatal care since the state stopped paying for it.

OneWorld Health Center in Omaha has had six women who have decided to get abortions after the state dropped their prenatal coverage, said Dr. Kristine McVea, director of the clinic that serves low-income patients.

A Schuyler doctor also has told news media that one of his patients has gotten an abortion because of the change in the state prenatal care program, and another one is considering it.

On March 1, 1,550 women lost prenatal benefits; about 840 of them are illegal immigrants.

Some senators are talking about resurrecting the plan to re-create the broad prenatal program after learning about the abortions.

Senators late last week voted down the bill (LB1110) that would have required the state to cover all low-income unborn babies, thus providing care to all low-income pregnant women, including those in the country illegally.

In light of the reported abortions, senators are looking at attaching that bill to other pro-life pieces of legislation, said Omaha Sen. Heath Mello.

Sen. Cap Dierks of Ewing, who is sponsor of one of the pro-life bills, said he would cooperate if his bill met the germaneness test -- meaning it dealt with the right area of the law. Dierks said he supports prenatal care for all low-income unborn babies.

"I think we made a mistake the other day" when the Legislature decided not to pursue the prenatal care bill, he said.

But Gov. Dave Heineman has not changed his stand.

Heineman, who had threatened to veto the prenatal care legislation, says this is an immigration issue and he will not endorse providing tax-funded benefits to illegal immigrants.

Asked Friday about the abortion reports, Heineman said there hasn't been confirmation of abortions and he wouldn't speculate on what his stand would be if there were confirmed reports.

Jim Flansburg, communications director for Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, said he could not confirm whether the agency had performed any abortions on women who had been cut off from prenatal benefits.

"There is no evidence at this juncture," Flansburg said Friday.

Heineman turned the question back on the Legislature, telling reporters they should ask the 48 senators (Omaha Sen. Rich Pahls is out on medical leave) whether they support or oppose the bill now.

Where do Tom White, Tony Fulton, Steve Lathrop, Scott Price stand on this bill, he asked. Three of those senators are in contested election races.

The number of women who have decided to get abortions in the past few weeks "is really unprecedented," said McVea, director of the Omaha clinic.

She said she has cared for about five women in the past decade who have decided to have abortions, and the clinic generally averages about seven women a year who opt for abortions.

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The clinic does not provide abortion services nor referrals, but staff members are able to tell when a woman is serious about an abortion and when she is simply considering the idea, she said.

Clinic staff members try to get a woman who has not made a decision back for another visit in a few days, she said.

But it was clear these six women had made up their minds, McVea said.

The number of women opting for abortions has been very upsetting to the clinic staff. "People were in tears. We've never seen anything like this," she said.

And the issue went beyond the expense of prenatal care, she said. For some women, already feeling overwhelmed, it was the last straw. Despite assurances the tax-funded Medicaid program does cover the delivery, some women feared that wasn't true.

Some women also are postponing monthly prenatal visits because they don't have the $30 charged to the lowest income clients, McVea said. Others have suggested they may have their babies at home, she said.

People who don't think these women should get tax-funded prenatal care say women are coming to the state simply to get care and give birth here.

But women are not telling OneWorld staff they intend to return to Mexico, said McVea. "Nobody is talking about that.

"That is the sad thing. By denying women Medicaid you are not solving any of the immigration issues. No one is going to Mexico. We are not working out issues of Social Security numbers, or inequities in the job force," she said.

Reach Nancy Hicks at 473-7250 or nhicks@journalstar.com.

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