Neb. AG won't defend law requiring abortion screenings; move prevents law from taking effect
Nebraska's attorney general will not defend a new state law requiring health screenings for women seeking abortions because there's little chance the controversial law will prevail in court, his spokeswoman said Wednesday.
Attorney General Jon Bruning agreed to a permanent federal injunction against enforcement of the law, which faces a challenge from Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, said his spokeswoman Shannon Kingery.
"It is evident from the judge's ruling (to temporarily block the law from taking effect) that LB594 will ultimately be found unconstitutional," she said. "Losing this case would require Nebraska taxpayers to foot the bill for Planned Parenthood's legal fee."
"We will not squander the state's resources on a case that has very little probability of winning."
Planned Parenthood of the Heartland filed a lawsuit last month in U.S. District Court in Nebraska over the law approved in the spring by state lawmakers. The group said the measure could be difficult to comply with and could require doctors to give women irrelevant information.
Jill June, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, said court documents were filed within minutes of Bruning's announcement to make the injunction permanent. A federal judge still must sign off on the agreement, though it wasn't immediately known when that would be.
"We have maintained from day one ... that this law was unconstitutional, and we are coming close to end of this legal battle," June said.
The law would require women wanting abortions to be screened by doctors or other health professionals to determine whether they had risk factors indicating they could have mental or physical problems after an abortion. If screening wasn't performed or was performed inadequately, a woman with mental or physical problems resulting from an abortion could file a civil lawsuit, according to the law. Doctors would not face criminal charges or lose their medical licenses.
The law was to take effect July 15, but U.S. District Judge Laurie Smith Camp has temporarily blocked it from taking effect.
Smith Camp, in that ruling, 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 put abortion providers 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 in the ruling.
State Sen. Cap Dierks of Ewing, who had introduced the measure in the Nebraska Legislature, said he's disappointed with Bruning's decision.
"I think it was a very important piece of legislation for women in our state," he said. "Whatever we need to do to make it acceptable, we'll do."
Dierks said that if anti-abortion groups want him to pursue similar legislation next session, he'll do so.
A message left with Nebraska Catholic Conference, which had worked with Dierks on the measure, wasn't immediately returned.
The provisions for health screenings was one of two controversial abortion measures passed by state lawmakers this spring that Gov. Dave Heineman signed into law.
The other law bans abortions starting at 20 weeks based on assertions from some doctors that fetuses feel pain at that stage of development. That law is scheduled to go into effect on Oct. 15.
U.S. District Court, Nebraska: http://www.ned.uscourts.gov
Nebraska attorney general: http://www.ago.ne.gov/
Planned Parenthood of the Heartland: http://www.plannedparenthood.org/heartland/
Source: AP News
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