March 31, 2010 — On Tuesday, lawmakers in Nebraska and Kansas advanced bills that would place new restrictions on abortion late in pregnancy. Summaries appear below.
~ Nebraska: State senators voted 38-5 to end the first round of debate on legislation (LB 1103), now being referred to by supporters as the "Pain-Capable Unborn Child Prevention Act," that would prohibit most abortions at and after 20 weeks post-fertilization based on the assertion by some experts that fetuses feel pain after that point, the Omaha World-Herald reports. According to the article, expert opinions vary on the point at which fetuses feel pain. Current state law prohibits abortion after viability, a precedent established in Roe v. Wade (Hammel, Omaha World-Herald, 3/30). The Associated Press reports that this, "first-of-its-kind proposal would overhaul the legal underpinnings of abortion restrictions," noting that current restrictions use fetal viability as the criteria, not fetal pain. Although viability can vary on a case by case basis, it generally is attained at 22 to 24 weeks, according to the AP. The bill also would narrow the state standard for health exceptions by allowing abortion after 20 weeks only if a woman were near death or at risk of irreversible physical harm. Under the state's current standards, post-viability abortion is permitted to preserve the health or life of the woman, leaving it to health care providers to determine the health issues meeting this standard (Jenkins, Associated Press, 3/31). According to the World-Herald, the bill "would chip away at a key provision" of Roe and "is sure to spark a new legal battle over abortion rights that could go all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court" (Omaha World-Herald, 3/30). The AP reports that the bill also is intended to "shut down" the clinic of abortion provider LeRoy Carhart, who offers abortion services up to 22 weeks at his Omaha, Neb., clinic (Associated Press, 3/31). Opponents of the bill argue that supporters' goal is to set a new legal precedent and prioritize politics over physicians' judgment. They also note that no abortions were performed in Nebraska after 20 weeks in the past year (Omaha World-Herald, 3/30). Janet Crepps of the Center for Reproductive Rights said that the bill has the "most narrow health exception for the late abortions that we've seen anywhere" (Associated Press, 3/31).
~ Kansas: The state House and Senate both approved a bill (HB 2115) that would require physicians to report a specific medical diagnosis to justify an abortion after 22 weeks of pregnancy, the Kansas City Star reports. The bill also would allow pregnant women, their partners or guardians of minors to sue abortion providers if they believe an abortion is performed illegally (Klepper, Kansas City Star, 3/30). The bill now goes to Gov. Mark Parkinson (D), an abortion-rights supporter (AP/KOAM, 3/31). Parkinson has not said whether he will sign or veto the bill. The Senate vote was three votes shy of the two-thirds majority required to override a veto, according to the AP/NTV (Hanna, AP/NTV, 3/31). The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that the bill excludes some of the most controversial elements of a similar measure that then-Gov. Kathleen Sebelius (D) vetoed last year. For example, lawmakers removed a provision that would have broadened laws on who can pursue criminal litigation against abortion providers (Hollingsworth/Carpenter, Topeka Capital-Journal, 3/31). According to the AP/NTV, supporters and opponents of the bill both say it is intended to prevent late-abortion providers from establishing practices in the state, which has not had a late-abortion provider since George Tiller was murdered last year (AP/NTV, 3/31). Some lawmakers criticized the process used to consider the bill, noting that the legislation was assigned to the Senate Utilities Committee. "I'm wondering how a committee on utilities is involved and has anything to do with a conference committee about women's reproductive health," state Sen. Vicki Schmidt (R) said (Topeka Capital-Journal, 3/31).