Nebraska’s Legislative Agenda: A Study In Contradictions?


If the 2010 Nebraska Legislative session had a theme, it would be “the session of contradictions,” at least in regard to reproductive health, maternal health, and child health…you know…those “woman things.”  The session began with the legislature approving the continuation of prenatal care for women in poverty, some of whom were illegal immigrants.  That bill was then vetoed by Nebraska’s publicly “pro-life” governor, who apparently would rather see higher infant illness and mortality than be accused of possibly providing support to the illegal immigrant community.

Now, as the session is drawing to a close, two more bills are proving that contradictions are just fine with the legislators as long as they guarantee women have less access to reproductive healthcare.

Two bills being debated by the unicameral are meant to reduce access to abortion in otherwise never before seen ways.  Earlier this week LB 594, a bill requiring that women go through a mental health screening before having an abortion, passed its second round of debate by a 36-7 margin.  The bill has to go through one final round within the next few days before it is then sent to the governor for his inevitable approval.

The bill has been amended to require those performing the screenings to provide a list of resources that can offer assistance should a woman have mental health struggles after the procedure.  In its original form, the legislators required the evaluators simply tell the woman the risks she may have, proving it was written as nothing more than a final chance to intimidate a woman out of choosing to have an abortion.

Before an abortion-related bill advanced Wednesday to final reading, Lincoln Sen. Amanda McGill — an opponent of the bill — persuaded her colleagues to make a small change.

The bill (LB594) would strengthen informed consent on abortion and allow for civil lawsuits against doctors who don’t screen women for risk factors of abortion and counsel them on complications.

McGill’s amendment would require the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services to make available materials that would inform women, following risk-factor evaluations, about public and private agencies with mental health services.

The services would include outpatient and crisis intervention services and hotlines. The materials would include a list of agencies, descriptions of services and contact information.

If doctors are going to be telling women the psychological issues they will be facing with abortion, they also should be telling them where to get information after they leave the doctor’s office, McGill said.

What’s most perplexing of course is that the legislators agree that in the case of an abortion before 20 weeks, a woman should always get a doctor’s opinion of her mental health and apparently that information should have great weight in her decision to terminate her pregnancy.  However, once she passes the point of 20 weeks, her mental health no longer has any value when compared to the value of a fetus.

The second round of debate was held today on the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, a bill created almost entirely as a vehicle for getting anti-choice legislation challenged and potentially reviewed by the Supreme Court.  Unlike every other anti-choice law that has so far passed in this country, LB 1103 refuses to provide an exemption for a mother’s mental health, regardless of the fact that prior to 20 weeks a pregnant woman’s mental health was so valuable that the state wants to advocate mandatory screenings to protect it.

Of course, LB 1103 has another added benefit: the possibility of running Dr. LeRoy Cahart out of town

One of the few late-term abortion providers in the country is sending mixed signals about whether he plans to leave Nebraska if tough, new restrictions are approved.

Early Thursday afternoon, a spokeswoman said Dr. LeRoy Carhart said he would have to see what happens and that there is no definite plan to relocate.

But earlier Thursday, Dionne Scott of the Center for Reproductive Rights said the doctor didn’t plan to leave even if the restrictions were approved.

Pending legislation would ban abortions at and after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

Debate consisted of a handful of legislators once more presenting the unconstitutional nature of the bill and other objections, especially the lack of exemptions for mothers to cope with nonviable pregnancies.   “We are not talking about engineering perfect pregnancies,” reminded Sen. Danielle Conrad.   “We are talking about pregnancies incompatible with life.”

The bill’s author, Sen. Mike Flood, then asked for approval of an amendment to clarify language that defined abortion, as well as appoint doctors as the ones who will decide to the best of their medical knowledge what the conception age of the fetus is. 

The amendment and bill passed the second round by a vote of 35 to 4, and will have a full endorsement next week before it is sent to the governor for to be signed into law.

Nebraska’s 2010 legislative session concludes Wednesday, April 14th.

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