In a direct challenge to the 1973 Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion, the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act prohibits abortions in Nebraska at or after the 20th week of pregnancy. The state government justifies the measure with claims that at 20 weeks a fetus can sense pain.
The law only allows exceptions for medical emergency, imminent death of the woman carrying the baby, or risk of substantial and irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function. Abortions for the sake of a womans mental health are explicitly ruled out.
The 1973 Supreme Court ruling says that no state can bar abortions before the fetus has become viable, generally considered to be 24 weeks.
The second law adopted in Nebraska mandates special risk screening of a prospective patient seeking an abortion. While the woman may proceed with the abortion whether risks are found or not, the measure erects new red tape and delays, and is aimed at intimidating both the woman and her doctor.
The law is vague about what risks the doctor has to look for, saying they include physical, psychological, emotional, demographic, or situational factors. These risks must be provided in writing at least 24 hours before an abortion. Among other things, the doctor is also required to evaluate the patient to identify if the pregnant woman has the perception of feeling pressured or coerced into seeking or consenting to an abortion. Failure of the doctor to meet all the requirements can result in a civil lawsuit by the patient for physical or emotional damages.
The ban on abortions after 20 weeks is partly aimed at physicians like Dr. LeRoy Carhart. Carthart, who has a clinic in Nebraska, was an associate of Dr. George Tiller, who provided these abortions in Kansas until his murder by an ultrarightist in May 2009. Carhart later announced he would continue to provide late-term abortions.
The Associated Press reported that Carhart released a statement a day after the bills were signed into law. The doctor said the new laws are anti-woman and strengthen his commitment to fight for womens reproductive rights, AP reported.
The Center for Reproductive Rights called the ban on abortions at or after 20 weeks flatly unconstitutional. Nancy Northup, president of the group, said, It absolutely cannot survive a challenge without a change to three decades of court rulings.
The law will endanger the health of pregnant women in Nebraska who have a constitutional right to access the essential reproductive health care banned by this bill, the center said.
The laws go into effect October 15.
Joe Swanson in Lincoln, Nebraska, contributed to this article.
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