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Nebraska AG agrees to permanent injunction of state abortion law

Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning [official website] announced [press release] Wednesday that he has agreed to a permanent injunction of a Nebraska abortion law [LB 594 materials] because he believes there is little chance that the law will withstand a court challenge. The law, known as the Women's Health Protection Act, would have required physicians to evaluate patients to determine that their choice to have an abortion [JURIST news archive] was 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. A lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the law was filed [complaint, PDF; JURIST report] in June by women's rights group Planned Parenthood of the Heartland [advocacy website] and a federal judge issued a preliminary injunction [JURIST report] last month prohibiting the law from going into effect. In issuing the injunction, Judge Laurie Smith Camp indicated that she believed the lawsuit would likely succeed on the merits because the law would require screenings that may be impracticable to perform and it would create "substantial, likely insurmountable, obstacles in the path of women seeking abortions in Nebraska." She also stated that the law, if applied literally, would "require medical providers to give untruthful, misleading and irrelevant information to patients," which violates the First Amendment [text] rights of the physicians performing the services. Bruning stated that he agreed with Smith's determination that the law would likely be found unconstitutional and that the state would not waste any more resources on a challenge they were likely to lose. Nebraska legislators who supported the law have indicated they will attempt to pass a constitutional version of the bill during the next legislative session.

Several state legislatures have acted recently to place restrictions on women's access to abortion. In June, 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. In May, 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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