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Law banning abortion method takes effect in Nebraska without legal challenge

Law banning abortion method takes effect in Nebraska without legal challenge

LINCOLN — A new law banning one type of second-trimester abortion took effect in Nebraska last week, but one major abortion provider said it will not change what he does.

Dr. LeRoy Carhart, medical director of the Clinics for Abortion and Reproductive Excellence in Bellevue and Bethesda, Maryland, said he does not use the procedure prohibited under Legislative Bill 814.

“It’s going to make no difference in what we offer to the populace,” he said. “We will be able to provide the same quality and level of services we have for many years.”

The new law, introduced by State Sen. Suzanne Geist of Lincoln, prohibits an abortion method called dilation and evacuation. The procedure involves dilating a woman’s cervix and removing the fetus in pieces. Abortion opponents call the procedure dismemberment abortion.

Nationally, it is by far the most common method used for second-trimester abortions. Estimates show that it accounts for about 95% of such abortions.

In Nebraska, it is used much less frequently. Statistics collected by the Department of Health and Human Services show that dilation and evacuation was used in 32 of the 2,078 total abortions performed in 2018, the latest year for which data is available. The method accounted for about 20% of the 178 abortions performed at 13 weeks or later.

Carhart said he changed procedures years ago, in response to a state law that sought to ban another abortion method. That law prohibited a procedure called intact dilation and extraction, or intact D&X, which opponents called partial-birth abortion.

But the law was written broadly enough that it could have applied to dilation and evacuation abortions, one of the reasons that the U.S. Supreme Court struck it down in 2000. A more narrowly written federal ban on intact D&X abortions was enacted later and upheld by the court.

Bans similar to the new Nebraska law have been blocked in every one of the 10 states where they have been challenged. The two other states where the bans are in effect have no abortion providers that perform second-trimester abortions.

No legal challenges have been filed in Nebraska. A spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood North Central States, which covers Nebraska, said the organization has no plans for litigation.

“Planned Parenthood is proud to provide our patients with high-quality, nonjudgmental reproductive health care, and that will not change with this new law,” Emily Bisek said.

Carhart said he hasn’t ruled out legal action but has not filed anything yet.

“I see it as just another intrusion on women’s rights,” he said.

Nate Grasz of the Nebraska Family Alliance called it “an important pro-life victory for Nebraska” to have the law take effect without the legal fight that abortion rights supporters had threatened during legislative debate.

“We’re thankful that practice was ended in Nebraska,” he said. “We believe Nebraska is better for it.”

Even if the law affects a relatively small number of abortions, he said, it puts an end to a gruesome method of abortion. In addition, he said the fierce fight against the legislation showed that it would have an impact. The debate also raised public awareness of issues around abortion.

Marion Miner of the Nebraska Catholic Conference also celebrated the law taking effect. He said the goal of such legislation is to save lives, not necessarily to provoke litigation.

“We’re confident in its constitutionality and very happy it’s in effect,” he said.

Miner acknowledged that the new law “may not” prevent any abortions because other methods can legally be used.

But he noted that the new law follows 2019 legislation requiring that women be told that it may not be too late to continue their pregnancy if they change their minds halfway through a medication abortion. It also follows 2018 legislation that effectively barred Planned Parenthood from receiving federal Title X family planning funds distributed by the state.

Miner and Grasz said they hope to build on the new law in the upcoming legislative session. They said abortion opponents are still discussing where to focus their efforts.

Sen. Megan Hunt of Omaha, a leader in the filibuster of LB 814, called the new law “out of touch” with the values of Nebraskans and said it’s a step toward making abortion unavailable for women.

“The end goal of these kinds of restrictions is to one day push it entirely out of reach,” she said. “However we feel about abortion, Nebraskans should be able to make their own decisions.”

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Martha Stoddard keeps legislators honest from The World-Herald's Lincoln bureau, where she covers news from the State Capitol. Follow her on Twitter @StoddardOWH. Phone: 402-670-2402

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