Citing evidence that unborn children feel pain, Nebraska lawmakers on Tuesday passed a bill banning abortion at 20 weeks or later. Pro-life organizations welcomed the bill which was signed into law on Tuesday afternoon, saying it is in the best interest of the state to protect unborn children.
"The Nebraska legislature has taken a bold step which should ratchet up the abortion debate across the nation," commented Nebraska Right to Life director Julie Schmit-Albin. "What we didn't know in 1973 in Roe versus Wade ... we know now."
The Nebraska bill was in part intended to shut down Dr. LeRoy Carhart, one of the few late-term abortionists in the U.S.
According to the Associated Press, abortion was permitted in Nebraska based on “viability,” an unborn child’s ability to survive outside the womb. Determined on a case-by-case basis, this occurs at 22 to 24 weeks into gestation.
However, some jurists say that a broad health exception in fact allows abortion up to birth itself.
Abortion advocates claimed that the bill is “flatly unconstitutional” and cannot survive a challenge without a change to three decades of court rulings.
“Courts have been chipping away at abortion rights … this would be like taking a huge hacksaw to the rights,” Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, told the Associated Press. She and Carhart indicate they might challenge the law.
Backers of the Nebraska law say the 2007 U.S. Supreme Court ruling upholding a late-term abortion ban allows the legislation because it suggests states have an interest in protecting fetuses. They also point to the evidence of fetal pain as a justification for the law.
The National Director of Priests for Life, Fr. Frank Pavone reacted to the signing of the bill into law, saying, "Until now, our laws have shown greater concern for laboratory animals and cattle that are slaughtered than for babies in the womb. With the Abortion Pain Prevention Act, Nebraska is beginning to change this. Every state should look to do the same."
The AP reports that it is unclear how many abortions would not be performed in the state because of the law.
Gov. Dave Heineman signed the Abortion Pain Prevention Act into law on Tuesday afternoon, along with a bill requiring a risk evaluation for women seeking abortions.
Kansas lawmakers have passed a bill meant to prevent Carhart from performing abortions in their state, but pro-abortion Gov. Mark Parkinson has not yet acted on the bill.