Nebraska’s “fetal pain” law, a new abortion restriction based on the erroneous assertion that fetuses may feel pain at 20 weeks gestation is still scheduled to go into effect in October. In preparation for the law, doctors are being reminded that they will now need to file “fetal age” information to the state, in order to ensure they are not in fact breaking the new rule.
The fetal-pain measure (LB1103) passed by state lawmakers last year takes effect Oct. 15.
“The reporting requirements in LB1103 should lead to more accurate and reliable data for the benefit of Nebraska lawmakers and all who are interested in these issues,” said Speaker of the Legislature Mike Flood of Norfolk, who introduced the bill.
Current Nebraska law requires doctors to file reports with the state Department of Health and Human Services on each abortion performed. Those reports must include where and when the abortion was performed, the woman’s age and state of residence, the number of previous births and abortions, the length and weight of the aborted fetus, the reason for the abortion, the type of procedure used and whether there were complications.
The reporting of gestational age is optional, and Nebraska’s 2009 abortion statistics show it was included on just one of 2,551 reports. Additionally, the length and weight of the aborted fetuses — which could offer a clue as to age — were listed as immeasurable on all but one report.
As Vicki Saporta, of the National Abortion Federation, points out in the article, once a woman is in the second trimester, ultrasound equipment cannot pinpoint age as accurately, making the “20 week” rule increasingly at a doctor’s discretion.
Vicki Saporta, president of the National Abortion Federation, a professional society for North American abortion providers, said ultrasound equipment can pinpoint gestational age within three days during the first trimester and within two weeks in the second. That could mean that, because of the current ultrasound technology, a doctor could date a woman’s pregnancy at 21 weeks when she’s really at 19 and deny her an abortion under the Nebraska legislation, which Saporta said “is yet another flaw in this law.”
There is no indication yet as to whether this law will be challenged, as was a previous regulation requiring women to undergo mental health screenings and listen to erroneous abortion information before undergoing the procedure. That law was struck down in August as unconstitutional, and the state decided not to try to overturn the ruling.