Neb. judge blocks new abortion law

Calls its screening clause an obstacle

By Josh Funk
Associated Press / July 15, 2010

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OMAHA — A federal judge yesterday blocked a new Nebraska law requiring mental health screenings for women seeking abortions because the measure could have made it impossible to get an abortion in the state.

US District Judge Laurie Smith Camp granted Planned Parenthood of the Heartland’s request for a preliminary injunction against the law, which was supposed to take effect today. The order will prevent the state from enforcing the law until the lawsuit challenging it is decided.

State officials have said the law is designed to make sure women understand the risks and complications that may accompany an abortion.

Smith Camp said the evidence presented so far showed that the screening law would make it harder for women to get an abortion in Nebraska by requiring screenings that could be impossible to perform under a literal reading of the law. She also said the law would make doctors who perform abortions at risk of crippling lawsuits.

“The effect of LB 594 will be to place substantial, likely insurmountable, obstacles in the path of women seeking abortions in Nebraska,’’ Smith Camp said.

The judge said that Planned Parenthood’s arguments that the law was vague and could be cumbersome were persuasive.

Planned Parenthood had argued the law would be difficult to comply with and could require doctors to give information irrelevant to abortions. “This is an important first step to preserve quality health care for women in Nebraska,’’ said Jill June, the president of Planned Parenthood of the Heartland.

Shannon Kingery, a spokeswoman for the Nebraska attorney general’s office, declined to discuss the details of the ruling. She said that the office would respect the judge’s order, but that the attorney general has a duty to defend the measure.

The law would require women wanting abortions to be screened by doctors or other health professionals to determine whether they were pressured into having the procedure. Women also would have to be screened for risk factors indicating if they could have mental or physical problems after an abortion.

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