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How Nebraska’s New Law Restricts Abortions

How Nebraska’s New Law Restricts Abortions

Yesterday, Nebraska’s Republican governor Dave Heineman signed a sweeping new law that criminalizes almost all abortions after 20 weeks’ gestation and another bill that forces women to undergo extensive mental health assessment prior to obtaining an abortion before 20 weeks.

Intimidating providers

Monica Potts of TAPPED explains that the laws are meant to have a chilling effect on all abortion providers in Nebraska. In the wake of last year’s assassination of Kansas abortion provider Dr. George Tiller, Dr. LeRoy Carhart of Nebraska began providing late-term abortions. According to Potts, the new abortion legislation is probably designed to run Dr. Carhart out of town.

An anti-choice Catch-22

Robin Marty of RH Reality Check notes the glaring contradictions between the two Nebraska abortion laws: Before 20 weeks of gestation, the state is so concerned about a woman’s health that they will force her to seek a mental health assessment to spare her the trauma of an ill-advised abortion. It seems that Nebraska legislators think women are so fragile that they can’t decide on their own whether an abortion will be unduly upsetting. Yet, after 20 weeks, a woman is not entitled to a “life of the woman” exemption even if a doctor determines that she is likely to commit suicide if she is forced to continue her pregnancy.

The second round of debate was held [Monday] 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.

Vanessa Valenti of Feministing writes of the Nebraska law:

The blatant anti-choice and ableist implications in these bills are just atrocious. Not only will some women be forced to carry their pregnancies to term with no mental health exception, but doctors will be terrified to perform abortions in fear of not correctly adhering to obscure these screening rules.

A collision course with Roe?

Gov. Heineman vowed to defend the new laws against any legal challenges. The Nebraska law bans abortion based on the purported ability of fetuses to feel pain, not their ability to survive outside the womb. The Supreme Court has ruled that states cannot ban abortion of pre-viable fetuses. According to the accepted legal reasoning, if a fetus is too immature to survive outside the woman’s body, the woman has the right to withdraw the support of her body by terminating the pregnancy.

Conveniently, anti-choicers say that they have scientific evidence that pre-viable fetuses can feel pain. This dubious evidence isn’t just a pretext for banning abortion earlier, it puts the bill on a crash course with Roe. If the abortion issue is really about a woman’s right to control her body, then the fetal pain issue is a red herring. A woman can legally inflict pain on a full-grown person if she strikes in self-defense to protect her bodily autonomy. Nebraska is launching a full frontal assault on women’s rights. In Nebraska the pain of a non-viable fetus allegedly matters more than a woman’s freedom. We’ll see what the Supreme Court says about that.

How Justice Stevens’ retirement fits in

The wheels were set in motion just as the leading liberal on the Supreme Court, Justice John Paul Stevens, announced his retirement. In The Progressive, Matthew Rothschild, the son of Stevens’ former law partner, recalls some of Stevens’ key pro-choice opinions over the course of his long career. For example:

In the 2000 Nebraska “partial-birth-abortion” case, Stevens stated: It is “impossible for me to understand how a State has any legitimate interest in requiring a doctor to follow any procedure other than the one that he or she reasonably believes will best protect the woman in her exercise of this constitutional liberty.”

As we look ahead to a Supreme Court confirmation battle, the Nebraska abortion bans illustrate why the stakes are so high. The Court is losing a leading champion of reproductive choice. President Barack Obama will face intense pressure from the liberal base to replace him with a nominee whose record on choice is equally strong. As Scott Lemieux argues at TAPPED, only a strong liberal will be able to hold the line against the conservative cadre of Scalia, Thomas, Roberts, and Alito.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about health care by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint.

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photo credit: thanks to luckywhitegirl via flickr
By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

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191 comments

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10:27PM PDT on Oct 19, 2010

@Nicole F: "Strange how the moment I find out I'm pregant, I am pregnant with a human being." "Everyone says congratulations, you're having a baby!"

People say a lot of things, Nicole, many of which are not true ("The world is flat." "Step on a crack, and break your mother's back." "If a black cat crosses your path, you'll have bad luck." Etc.) That said, I'm very happy that you had 5 positive pregnancies. I'm sure you're a wonderful mother, and your children are all happy and healthy. But the fact is, it was your CHOICE to bring those pregnancies to term. It doesn't matter whether the newly fertilized eggs were human beings or not, it was STILL your choice. Just as it is your choice whether or not to donate bone marrow to save a 3-yr-old leukemia patient's life. No one is allowed to force someone to donate any body parts (not even blood), even though the patient (who is an actual, full human being, unquestionably) will die without one of those body parts. That's the same principle by which no woman can be FORCED to bring a pregnancy to term (i.e., donate her uterus), even though the fetus will die if she doesn't. If you give the government the right to override your right to autonomy over your body in the case of pregnancy, then you give up autonomy over your body in any other case, as well. The government will decide when and how often you'll be an organ donor, not you.

6:07PM PDT on Oct 19, 2010

Strange how the moment I find out I'm pregant, I am pregnant with a human being. Not a cat, not a puppy, not an alien. I have a baby in my tummy. Everyone says congratulations, you're having a baby! Not one person has ever told me I didnt actually have a real live baby (a human) in my womb, or a pile of cells. That's through 5 pregnancies...

12:04PM PDT on May 2, 2010

Nerve endings are not fully developed until just before birth, therefore a fetus does not feel pain in the way an adult would feel pain.

Do you remember feeling any pain from birth? When you were a few months or even years old. Very doubtful. In fact if you want to go there and refuse an abortion on the concept that a fetus feels pain, abortion would be the perfect answer to end the forth coming pain of childbirth that the pre-born goes through on it's way out of the birth canal or in the case of a c-section, being yanked out of it's safe environment into the harsh light of the world once born. And yes, lights hurt the eyes of newborns, so what would be this governors answer to the pain a fetus feels while being born. I would like to know.

It's time to get our of the uterus's of total strangers where these busy bodies have invaded since Roe-v-Wade became law. If they were really so concerned with life, they would work at stopping all wars, child neglect and abuse and see to it that everyone had a job that could afford the cost of raising these children, especially since they want to see to it that every fetus is carried to birth, forget the fact that it is more important that every child should be a wanted child. And what about the abuse many of these unwanted, forced to carry to term babies will face in their lifetimes as many will not be put up for adoption, or if they are, become many of those never adopted.

9:16AM PDT on Apr 25, 2010

Dear Charles, what do you mean by “Finally, the possible longterm "side effects" of abortion are no worse than the the possible side effects of child birth. More women die in child birth than from legal, safe abortions.”???
Any ways, I have never heard women who gave birth to children got a death promising effect from a natural birth, but I want to inform you that, ongoing research refers to a late term abortion being a number one suspect to death promising breast cancer, it’s coming expect it.

9:06AM PDT on Apr 25, 2010

Dear Charles, what do you mean by “Finally, the possible longterm "side effects" of abortion are no worse than the the possible side effects of child birth. More women die in child birth than from legal, safe abortions.”???
If you mean asking me why there are possibilities of death in giving birth? It sounds like asking me why there is death? Why there is no security to a man on the planet? Security is fantasy, a man has never been secured, it is just because we can’t change the law of nature, and I have no philosophical knowledge, I am just a woman.
But why you believe that the effects of giving birth are equal and parallel with the effects of abortion??? No professional believes that way, but again to the professional late term abortion is considered child birth with only difference, giving birth to the baby is helped by naturally forced and normal delivery, the baby itself helps on that, and aborting it at late time is again giving birth to a none-alive and of no help baby helped by medicine and a mechanically forced technical way. Late us say I agree with you on that believe of you which is “giving birth is dangerous and possibly the woman will die”, what difference that will make when she is already pregnant? Does giving birth helped by a mechanically and technically forced delivery make the difference?

6:40AM PDT on Apr 25, 2010

@Mekdes W: “I said that at no point during her menstrual cycle is her chance of conception 100%. This is absolutely true. During ovulation, her chance is the highest, but even then it is NOT 100%.”

Dear Charles, you have already said that, don’t focus on that unless you mean let us help those who are in-need of conception, we can discuss about it if needed, but here we are dealing with abortion case, don’t forget that the woman in question is already pregnant, which means 100% conception, considering the fact that I have never met a 50% pregnant woman, sorry for saying that, I thought you will understand it by yourself, but you asked me more than 3 times, is it that much difficult to understand? Is that why men are unable to protect their women from unexpected conception?? Is the head of the problem around men’s innocence and misunderstanding???
Is the solution informing men as much as possible about how and when the very first formation of that life happens, and then helping them to understand about their responsibility to their own commitment??? I just wonder!!!


6:11AM PDT on Apr 25, 2010

Dear Charles, how are you doing?
“A fetus is only a potential human being. The exact point at which it becomes a full-fledged human being is a matter of considerable debate.”
I agree with that saying of a man, I even know that, the exact point at which an irresponsible man may feel (if he ever feels) some responsibility and some affection to his commitment is when he already holds the baby in his hug. But unfortunately I am not concerned on advising that irresponsible man, it’s just waste of time and energy, I am concerned about the woman to whom any life is not just a matter of considerable debate, is life, is just that, is commitment, is love, is nature and of-course it is just her responsibility as early as its’ formation. She feels as if the world is in her own body, she feels affection to it, but at the same time she knows very well that to her man it is just “a matter of considerable debate” if it’s life or not, and that is exactly why she feels unsecured and decide to rush on aborting it with what ever it costs on her own health, inadvertently she means protecting it from that father and the inconvenient world, she doesn’t mean hurting it. And being a woman I feel as if I am her mother and the grand-mom to her un-born child, and I am here to shout at her, No baby don’t do that please, we all love you, get the courage to protect your un-born child’s life and your own health.









9:09PM PDT on Apr 24, 2010

@Mekdes W: "that was just one example I gave you so that you can understand that conception to a healthy young woman is not a rare chance as you said"

Again, I never said that conception in a healthy young woman is "rare". Please stop saying that I did. I said that at no point during her menstrual cycle is her chance of conception 100%. This is absolutely true. During ovulation, her chance is the highest, but even then it is NOT 100%.

8:58PM PDT on Apr 24, 2010

@Mekdes W: "don’t you understand the difference between plastic surgery and taking out a life?"

Don't you understand the difference between a human being and a POTENTIAL human being? A fetus is only a potential human being. The exact point at which it becomes a full-fledged human being is a matter of considerable debate. This debate is often muddied by radical religious beliefs of fundamentalists, who often insist that that point is at conception. Yet even these people don't hold funerals for miscarried fetuses. Nor do they insist that coroners issue death certificates for those fetuses. A 1-minute old newborn who dies will get both of these.

As for "taking out a life", there are many instances where doctors have to sacrifice one life so that another could live. They seem to do that without suffering any psychological damage. Doctors separate cojoined twins, allowing one to die so that the other can live. Tubal pregnancies are aborted. Death row inmates are given lethal injections. Assisted suicide in states where that is legal. And so on. I think doctors are perfectly able to take care of their own psychological health.

Finally, the possible longterm "side effects" of abortion are no worse than the the possible side effects of child birth. More women die in child birth than from legal, safe abortions.

5:03AM PDT on Apr 24, 2010

@Mekdes W: You're implying that this young woman only had sex 3 times during those 11 months. For all you know, she could have had sex *300* times.

Dear Charles, No, I am not implying or assuming, I am sharing experience, and that was just one example I gave you so that you can understand that conception to a healthy young woman is not a rare chance as you said, considering the partner is at-least physically healthy. And it’s none of my job to know if she had sex *300* times. And if just in case she informs me that she did, it’s pleasing and interesting to know that she is enjoying life’s natural pleasure, I don’t see anything bad on that, what I see and am sure is that she had unprotected sex 3 times at a curiously inquiring period of time, in inconvenient situation and with irresponsible to the commitment partner.
And I am concerned only for those 3 times, I feel responsible to inform her well to abort only those 3 times, rather than aborting a child. There is no way to anyone to be free of a living commitment; there is a poor way of aborting it for the time being, just to postpone the responsibility and to pay it later on with the entire tariff it costs.


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