Abortion bills stall


April 27th, 2011

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Lincoln, NE – Two bills restricting abortions remain stuck in the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee. But advocates say they’re not giving up.

One bill by Lincoln Senator Tony Fulton would ban what critics call “web cam abortions,” and supporters call “telemedicine.” Those are procedures where a woman is connected via videoconferencing to a doctor, who then can remotely open a drawer containing an abortion-inducing drug.

The Judiciary Committee vote on the banning the procedure was four to three, with five votes needed to advance to the bill to the full legislature. Omaha Sen. Burke Harr didn’t vote, saying he’s concerned the bill may be unconstitutional.

Omaha Sen. Brad Ashford is coming under pressure from right to life groups to support two bills limiting abortions. (Photo courtesy Nebraska Legislature)

After the vote, Omaha Sen. Brad Ashford said he won’t bring it up again unless someone indicates he or she wants to change the way they voted. Julie Schmit Albin of Nebraska Right to Life says that organization wants to work on Harr and Ashford.

“Current Nebraska statute reflects that only a physician can perform an abortion,” she said. “All that LB521 seeks to do is to put into statute that the physician or abortionist must be present for either a chemical or a surgical abortion.”

Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, which opposed the bill, could not be reached for an interview. But in a written statement, president and CEO Jill June said making telemedicine unavailable to a woman wanting to end her pregnancy would raise constitutional questions.

Harr also said it may not be constitutional to regulate abortion-inducing drugs based on what they do. He added that if the legislature wanted to prohibit dispensing all prescription drugs via telemedicine, it could probably do that.

The Committee took no vote on another bill regarding abortions for women under age 18. It would change the current requirement for a parent to be notified to one that requires parental consent. Once again, Harr raised constitutional questions.

Harr said courts have upheld parental consent laws as long as a judge can decide if the abortion is in the best interest of the minor, for example in cases involving incest. Parental notification laws have included a narrower exception where the judge decides if the notification is in minor’s best interest. Harr said the wording should be consistent with laws that have been upheld.

But Senator Lydia Brasch of Bancroft, sponsor of the bill, said that might open too big a loophole. She’s asked Attorney General Jon Bruning’s office for legal opinion.

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