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More states crack down on late-term abortions

By David Crary and Timberly Ross
Associated Press / July 24, 2011

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OMAHA - Inspired by a contentious Nebraska law, abortion opponents in five other states have won passage of measures banning virtually all abortions after five months of pregnancy.

The late-term bans - based on the premise that fetuses at that stage can feel pain, a view that has been disputed - are among a record wave of more than 80 restrictions aimed at reducing access to abortion, all of them approved this year in state legislatures. Other measures expand pre-abortion counseling requirements, ban abortion coverage in new insurance exchanges, and subject abortion clinics to tough new regulations.

With only a few legislatures still in session, each side in the abortion debate is now assessing the potential impact of the new laws. They may not drastically slash the overall number of US abortions - 1.2 million a year at last count - but they have emboldened antiabortion activists, angered abortion providers, and will likely make decisions all the more wrenching for women affected by the late-term bans.

“In almost every instance at that late stage, something has gone terribly wrong with what typically was a very wanted pregnancy,’’ said Peter Brownlie, head of Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri. “What we see are parents in anguish over some type of medical condition - and these very cruel laws double or triple that anguish.’’

Kansas is one of the five states - along with Alabama, Idaho, Indiana, and Oklahoma - that enacted abortion bans this year modeled after the groundbreaking fetal-pain bill passed in Nebraska in 2010. The Kansas ban is effective after 21 weeks, with the others after 20 weeks. Exceptions are allowed when the mother’s life is at risk or she faces severe physical impairment.

The bills depart from the standards established by the Supreme Court that allow states to limit abortions when there’s a reasonable chance the fetus could survive outside of the womb, generally considered to be around 23 or 24 weeks.

Of all the antiabortion measures introduced this year, one of the most ambitious remains pending in Ohio’s Republican-led legislature. It would ban abortions after the first detectable fetal heartbeat, which can occur within six weeks of conception.

Governor John Kasich of Ohio signed a different bill Wednesday that would ban abortions after 20 weeks if the doctor - after a mandatory test - determines that the fetus is viable. There’s no exception for the health or life of the mother.

In addition to the late-term bans, other restrictions include:

■ Regulations in Kansas specifying what drugs and equipment abortion clinics must stock and setting requirements for room sizes and temperatures. Two of the state’s three abortion providers sued after they were unable to meet the new standards, and a federal judge has blocked the rules until the lawsuit is resolved.

■ A Texas law requiring doctors to conduct a pre-abortion sonogram and describe the fetus’s features to the pregnant woman. Doctors who don’t comply would face loss of their medical license and possible prosecution. The New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights has filed a lawsuit to overturn the law, scheduled to take effect Oct. 1.

■ A South Dakota law, now under a preliminary injunction, requiring women seeking abortions to face a three-day waiting period and undergo counseling at pregnancy centers that discourage abortion.

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