March 18, 2010 — A Nebraska bill (LB 1103) that would ban abortion after 20 weeks' gestation in nearly all cases has advanced from the Judiciary Committee to the full Legislature for debate, the AP/Beatrice Daily Sun reports. The bill, introduced by Speaker of the Legislature Mike Flood, would prohibit abortion past 20 weeks unless needed to save the woman's life or avert substantial, irreversible physical harm. The proposal is based on the assertion that fetuses feel pain after 20 weeks (Jenkins/Ross, AP/Beatrice Daily Sun, 3/17). Current Nebraska law bans abortion after viability -- typically defined as 23 weeks to 24 weeks of gestational age -- except to preserve the life or health of the woman (Stoddard, Omaha World-Herald, 3/17).
If the legislation becomes law, it would be the first in the U.S. to mandate a 20-week threshold. According to the AP/Daily Sun, lawmakers and outside experts agree "it could set a new standard nationally, although they disagree[e] whether it would pass muster in a courtroom."
Judiciary Committee Chair Brad Ashford tried and failed to alter the bill to allow abortion after 20 weeks to avoid substantial and irreversible mental impairment, rather than only in cases of threatened physical impairment. Janet Crepps of the Center for Reproductive Rights said not including language about mental impairment in the bill makes it unconstitutional. She also said the bill contains the "most narrow health exception" for abortion later in pregnancy "that we've seen anywhere."
Mary Spaulding Balch, legislative director for National Right to Life, contended that the bill was constitutional, adding that Nebraska law allows for "such a broad interpretation of health that it includes threat of suicide, it includes many things people would not consider a health risk" (AP/Beatrice Daily Sun, 3/18).
Second Antiabortion Bill Advanced
The Judiciary Committee also voted 6-0 to advance a bill (LB 594), introduced by state Sen. Cap Dierks, that would impose additional requirements on abortion providers to those that mandate that they assess patients and notify them of the procedure's potential risks. The measure would require an abortion provider, during a patient evaluation, to investigate whether a woman feels pressured to have the procedure (Omaha World-Herald, 3/17).
Prenatal Care Bill Dropped
Meanwhile, Nebraska state Sen. Kathy Campbell on Wednesday abandoned legislation (LB 1110) that would have allowed low-income women who do not qualify for Medicaid -- including undocumented immigrants -- to receive prenatal care, the AP/North Platte Telegraph reports. Campbell scrapped the bill because of opposition from Gov. Dave Heineman (R) and many members of the state Legislature, who opposed providing aid to undocumented immigrants (AP/North Platte Telegraph, 3/18).
For nearly 30 years, Nebraska provided prenatal care to women through Medicaid regardless of immigration status because their children would be natural-born U.S. citizens and therefore eligible for Medicaid. Campbell introduced the bill -- which would have provided prenatal care to low-income women through the state's version of the Children's Health Insurance Program -- after the federal government informed Nebraska late last year that it must cease providing such care to undocumented immigrants through Medicaid because doing so violates federal rules. The federal government allows documented immigrants to receive prenatal care through Medicaid, but undocumented immigrants are barred from the program.
Because of Heineman's opposition to the bill, Campbell earlier this week offered a compromise measure that would have only provided state-funded prenatal care for about a year to the 1,500 low-income women who lost coverage after Nebraska had to stop providing care to these women through Medicaid. However, after Heineman said he also opposed the compromise, Campbell returned her focus to the original bill (Women's Health Policy Report, 3/17).
Campbell said it is "sad and disheartening" that Nebraska will end its longstanding policy of providing prenatal care to low-income women in need.
Some critics of the bill said their opposition has less to do with aid to undocumented immigrants and more to do with the proposal's estimated cost of around $7 million (North Platte Telegraph, 3/18).