In one of the few states where doctors are willing to perform them, abortions at or past 20 weeks gestation have been outlawed. In fact, Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman (R) signed two new bills restricting abortion on Tuesday. Set to take effect in October, the first measure (The Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, gag me) is based on the claim that fetuses can feel pain at 20 weeks. The current standard in abortion restrictions is viability: generally 22 to 24 weeks.
“The shenanigans have started,” said civil rights attorney Kathryn Kolbert of Barnard College.
The fetal-pain bill is partially meant to shut down Dr. LeRoy Carhart, who performs late-term abortions in Nebraska. It also appears to have been specifically designed to impact the national debate about abortion. Undoubtedly, the bill will be challenged, and the Supreme Court might be forced to answer the medical question of if and when a fetus can feel pain, or whether that matters.
For the record, “There is certainly no solid scientific evidence establishing that a fetus can perceive pain at these earlier stages, so any court decisions to uphold such broader laws could only do so by disregarding the importance of good scientific evidence,” according to Caitlin Borgmann, a law professor at The City University of New York.
Nebraska will also be the first state to restrict access to abortion by requiring doctors to screen women for mental or physical problems before performing the procedure. This law requires a doctor or other health professional to screen women to assess risk factors including “physical, psychological, emotional, demographic, or situational” factors. The law holds doctors civilly responsible if a screening fails to be comprehensive.
I’d love to know the rationale for this. Are those who pass the screening permitted to get their abortions whilst those deemed mentally unsound are prevented from doing so? “You belong to a dwindling demographic! You must help us multiply.” This is disturbing any way you look at it. I predict they will make the screening process drag on beyond the new 20 week deadline. Two birds!
I think ultimately both measures are designed to scare the living daylights out of abortion providers and dissuade them from serving women in need. “It’s very difficult to know for certain if you’re complying with this bill,” said Kyle Carlson, an attorney for Planned Parenthood of the Heartland.