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Rights group sues over Nebraska abortion law requiring psychological screening

Women's rights group Planned Parenthood of the Heartland [advocacy website] filed a lawsuit [complaint, PDF; press release, PDF] on Monday opposing a new Nebraska law [LB 594 materials] that will require doctors to perform psychological screenings of patients seeking abortions [JURIST news archive]. The lawsuit names several defendants, including Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman [official profile], who signed the new legislation [press release] in April, and Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning [official profile], as well as the state's Department of Health and Human Services, Board of Nursing [official websites] and Board of Advanced Practice Registered Nurses [member list, PDF]. Planned Parenthood argues that the law is unconstitutional [statement, PDF] because, by setting out unreasonable requirements that most physicians are unable to meet, the law pressures those doctors to stop performing abortions or face large penalties. The group also argues that the law is unethical because it forces physicians to tell patients about all risks associated with abortion, even risks based on outdated or unreliable studies. Supporters of the law argue that the requirements are reasonable [Lincoln Journal Star report] and will increase the safety of women having abortions. The law, known as the Women's Health Protection Act, requires physicians to evaluate patients to determine that their choice to have an abortion is voluntary and to inform the patients of all risk factors and complications [LB 594 text] that have been statistically associated with abortion and published in peer-reviewed journals 12 months prior to the pre-abortion evaluation, as well as earlier studies. Violations of the Act can result in a $10,000 penalty for each failure to screen or inform, wrongful death damages, actual damages and attorneys fees. The law will take effect on July 15.

Several state legislatures have acted recently to place restrictions on women's access to abortion. Earlier this month, Florida Governor Charlie Crist [official website] vetoed a bill [JURIST report] that would have required women seeking an abortion to undergo an ultrasound or listen to a detailed description of the fetus before the procedure would be performed. Last month, Oklahoma lawmakers approved a bill [JURIST report] requiring women seeking an abortion to complete a questionnaire containing information on marital status, reason for seeking the abortion and whether the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest. In April, the Nebraska legislature approved a bill prohibiting abortions at or past 20 weeks [JURIST report] on the theory that a fetus can allegedly feel pain following that point. Advocacy groups have criticized the laws and indicated they will challenge them in court.

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