Federal judge blocks enforcement of Nebraska abortion law

[JURIST] A judge for the US District Court for the District of Nebraska [official website] issued a preliminary injunction [order, PDF] Wednesday preventing a new Nebraska abortion law [LB 594 materials] from being enforced. The law, known as the Women's Health Protection Act, requires physicians to evaluate patients to determine that their choice to have an abortion [JURIST news archive] 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 attorney's fees. The lawsuit was filed [complaint, PDF; JURIST report] by women's rights group Planned Parenthood of the Heartland [advocacy website] and argues that the law is unconstitutional 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. 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. The new law will go into effect on July 15, but the state will be prohibited from enforcing the law until the outcome of the lawsuit has been decided.

Several state legislatures have acted recently to place restrictions on women's access to abortion. Last 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. 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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