Flickr photo by internets_dairyNebraska Governor Dave Heineman signed a law banning most abortions done 20 weeks after conception or later. The theory is that a fetus can feel pain by that stage in pregnancy.
According to experts, the question of fetal pain is still unresolved and hotly debated among researchers and advocates on both sides of the abortion issue. Yet the new measure (LB1103) passed with no problem: 44 to 5.
The new law grants exceptions only in cases of medical emergency, the pregnant woman's imminent death, or a serious risk of “substantial and irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function."
Abortion rights supporters say the law is unconstitutional and are considering legal challenges. "It absolutely cannot survive a challenge without a change to three decades of court rulings," said Nancy Northrup , president of the Center for Reproductive Rights . "Courts have been chipping away at abortion rights ... this would be like taking a huge hacksaw to the rights."
Abortion rights opponents praise the law and say it's justified by medical evidence gained since Roe v. Wade.
In some states that require counseling for women considering abortions, the women are told of a possibility that fetuses may have the capacity to feel pain. But no other state cites that possibility as part of a law restricting abortions.
Governor Heineman also signed another law on Tuesday, requiring health care providers to screen women seeking abortions for possible physical or mental risks.
Kyle Carlson, a lawyer for Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, said the group will consider its options but will continue to provide abortion services. Planned Parenthood doesn't perform abortions after 20 weeks, but Carlson said the screening law seemed vague and could be challenged legally as it requires doctors to ask clients about "any risk factor identified in any [scientific] journal in the previous 12 months."
Both laws restrict a woman's right to choose.