Nebraska lawmakers on Monday gave final approval to a first-of-its-kind measure requiring women to be screened for possible mental and physical problems before having abortions.
Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman said Thursday he supports the measure, meaning it is all but guaranteed to receive his signature and become law this summer. It's also likely to be challenged in court. National abortion-rights supporters have called it a drastic shift in abortion policy that would block abortions by scaring doctors who might perform them.
Supporters say it simply puts abortions in line with other medical procedures in which patients are screened for possible problems.
"We're dealing with destruction of early, unborn life, so we ought to take extra care," said Greg Schleppenbach of the National Catholic Conference.
The measure is unusual, however, in spelling out what factors doctors must consider when doing the screenings. Schleppenbach said that's because doctors otherwise would turn to other abortion providers to set the standards for the medical community.
The bill requires a doctor or other health professional to screen women to determine whether they were pressured into having abortions. The screenings also would assess whether women have risk factors that could lead to mental or physical problems after an abortion.
Doctors would have to tell patients whether they had any of the risk factors but could perform abortions even if they existed. If a screening was not done, a woman could file a civil suit.
Doctors would not face criminal charges, nor would they lose their medical licenses.
The doctors would likely have to screen for far-ranging risk factors that could change over time. Any risk factors cited in peer-reviewed journals indexed by two major medical and scientific listing services during the year before a planned abortion would have to be checked.
They would include "physical, psychological, emotional, demographic, or situational" factors, according to the bill.
"It's too vague," said Sen. Brad Ashford of Omaha, one of just nine senators who voted against the measure on Monday. "I don't know if a physician faced with civil action can know all the risk factors," cited in journals, he added.
Abortion opponents acknowledge that it could reduce the number of abortions in the state, which numbered 2,551 last year.
Later this week, Nebraska lawmakers are expected to give final approval to another first-of-its-kind bill banning abortions at 20 weeks based on the assertion fetuses feel pain by then.
On the Net:
Nebraska Legislature: http://www.nebraskalegislature.gov
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