LINCOLN, Neb. — Planned Parenthood of the Heartland filed a lawsuit Monday challenging a new Nebraska law requiring mental health screening for women seeking abortion.
The new law would require women wanting abortions to be screened by doctors or other health professionals to determine whether they were pressured into having the procedure. Those women also would have to be screened for risk factors indicating they could have mental or physical problems after an abortion.
Planned Parenthood, which runs one of two abortion clinics in Nebraska, has been critical of the measure, saying it could be difficult to comply with and could give women irrelevant information.
"The act would ban abortions in Nebraska by imposing, as a condition to performing lawful abortions, impossible, unintelligible, and unprecedented so-called 'informed consent' requirements on abortion providers that vastly stray from accepted and, indeed, good medical practice," Planned Parenthood said in its lawsuit.
Supporters of the screening law say it could help prevent medical problems after the abortion is performed and would put the pre-abortion reviews in line with those used in other medical procedures. Doctors would have to tell patients if they had any risk factors indicating they could have mental or physical problems after an abortion, but could still perform it in those cases.
The new law says if a screening was not done or was performed inadequately, a woman who had mental or physical problems afterward could file a civil suit. Doctors would neither face criminal charges nor lose their medical licenses.
The screening law is set to go into effect on July 15. It is one of two controversial abortion laws passed by state lawmakers last spring and signed into law by Gov. Dave Heineman.
The other new law would ban abortions starting at 20 weeks, and that is set to go into effect in mid-October. That ban is based on assertions from some doctors that fetuses feel pain by that stage of development. It, too, had initially drawn threats of a legal challenge, but attorneys on both sides of the debate have recently theorized that the law might be allowed to stand over fears that a losing challenge to it would change the legal landscape for abortion.
If opponents challenge the law and lose, the court could redefine the measure for abortion restrictions, throwing out viability — when the fetus could survive outside the womb — in favor of the point when a fetus can feel pain. If future medical advances were to show a fetus can feel pain at an earlier stage, abortions could be restricted earlier.
"Anybody who wants to challenge the laws is going to have to assess whether the strategic risks of bringing a lawsuit outweigh the likelihood of a victory," said Caitlin Borgmann, a law professor at The City University of New York.
A challenge "could be seen by some people as too risky," said Borgmann, who testified against the ban during a legislative hearing in February.
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