Nebraska “Mental Health” Screening Law Put on Hold

Robin Marty

A federal judge rules that the new pre-abortion screening process in Nebraska will not be implemented July 15th as the state previously planned.

A new law that requires all women to be prescreened for possible mental issues prior to obtaining an abortion has been blocked by U.S. District Court Judge Laurie Smith Camp.  The law, which was scheduled to go into effect on July 15th, was challenged by Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, who argued that the law was so vague that it would be impossible to correctly adhere to it.

Under the law, doctors would have to screen for risk factors for post-abortion complications based on an almost limitless rang of information published in medical studies, even studies with contested and ambiguous conclusions. The law also doesn’t provide doctors any guidance about how to evaluate which of the findings to include when they screen patients.

“Many of them are decades old; some of them — a century old. Many, of course, are out of date. Many have been debunked. Many are irrelevant to the patient’s care,” said Planned Parenthood’s CEO Jill June.

Judge Smith Camp agreed with the organization, according to the Lincoln Journal Star:

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Smith Camp said Planned Parenthood’s arguments that the law was vague and could be cumbersome were persuasive, and the potential harm the law could do made a preliminary injunction appropriate.

“Plaintiffs have presented substantial evidence that the disclosures mandated by LB 594, if applied literally, will require medical providers to give untruthful, misleading and irrelevant information to patients,” Smith Camp said in her ruling.

The law is now blocked until the official lawsuit over the screenings has been settled.

News Law and Policy

Attorneys Face Tough Questions in Court Hearing on Texas’ Omnibus Anti-Abortion Law

Andrea Grimes

Federal judges asked tough questions Friday morning during a lengthier-than-expected appeals court hearing concerning the enforcement of Texas' omnibus anti-abortion law, HB 2.

Federal judges asked tough questions Friday morning during a lengthier-than-expected appeals court hearing concerning the enforcement of Texas’ omnibus anti-abortion law, HB 2. The law in part mandates that abortion facilities operate as hospital-like ambulatory surgical centers and requires abortion-providing doctors to obtain hospital admitting privileges.

An Austin judge had blocked the law just before Labor Day, prompting the State of Texas to appeal to the Firth Circuit court in New Orleans to allow it to begin enforcing HB 2.

“We basically tried to focus on the point that access for women in Texas is the most important thing right now and maintaining the status quo and allowing clinics that can’t meet ASC requirements to stay open is essential,” an attorney for the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR), which is representing Texas abortion providers in the case, told Rewire after the hearing.

“If the state is granted its motion and starts enforcing the law, there will be only at most seven or eight clinics left in Texas,” lead attorney Esha Bhandari said.

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Before HB 2 passed, Texas had 41 licensed abortion providers; just eight of those licensed providers would currently be able to operate as ambulatory surgical centers, and all are located in major metropolitan areas in the northeast part of the state, leaving South Texas and West Texas devoid of legal abortion facilities.

This morning’s three-judge panel—one Obama appointee and two judges appointed by Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush—largely appeared to split down predictable party lines in their respective lines of questioning.

Judge Jerry Smith, the Reagan appointee, opened the hearing by questioning the State of Texas’ delay in filing its federal appeal, which came near midnight two days after the original federal court ruling. Smith said he was “perplexed” about the way the state handled its appeal.

“All of the judges and our staffs, as well as the staff here in New Orleans, were on alert throughout the weekend thinking that you felt strongly enough about the harm element that you would file a motion for stay,” said Smith, interrupting Texas deputy attorney general Jonathan Mitchell, who appeared on the state’s behalf.

Mitchell responded that because of the wide scope of Western District Judge Lee Yeakel’s ruling, the attorney general’s office was unable to file more quickly than it did.

But the toughest lines of questioning came from Bush appointee Judge Jennifer Elrod, who appeared unswayed by CRR attorney Stephanie Toti’s argument that HB 2 should remain blocked while its appeal continues in the federal court system.

Elrod peppered Toti with questions about constitutional precedent, and focused particularly on whether Texas abortion providers could show that HB 2 would constitute an undue burden for a “large fraction” of Texans.

Elrod also questioned the reliability and relevance of research produced by the University of Texas’ Texas Policy Evaluation Project, which found that more than a million Texans will live farther than 100 miles from a legal abortion provider if HB 2 goes into effect.

State’s attorney Jonathan Mitchell largely stayed away from questions of fact-finding and the trial record concerning whether low-income Texans could travel hundreds of miles round-trip for legal abortion care, arguing instead that “this is a pure legal question for the court to decide,” and that past legal precedent should cause the Fifth Circuit to immediately allow the state to begin enforcing HB 2.

It is unknown when the Fifth Circuit will rule on the current appeal, though the court has in the past upheld Texas abortion laws and Texas laws allowing the state to ban Planned Parenthood from providing state-funded contraception and cancer screenings.

Commentary Law and Policy

“Nothing Changes” for Fifty Thousand Texans Forced to Find New Health Care Providers, Says State Attorney

Andrea Grimes

As any woman knows, finding the right gynecologist is no small feat--but finding the "right" gynecologist is taking on a new meaning in Texas, where reproductive health providers must now show that their politics don't clash with those of conservative lawmakers if they want to continue to see patients in the Texas Women's Health Program.

“Nothing changes for her, other than she has to find a new doctor.”

That’s what attorney for the State of Texas Kristofer Monson told a judge last week when arguing for the state’s right to block Planned Parenthood from participating in its Texas Women’s Health Program (TWHP) because some Planned Parenthood clinics, wholly fiscally and geographically separate from others, provide safe, legal abortions. Nearly 50,000 Texans who are enrolled in the program will be forced to find new doctors for cancer screenings and contraception this year if the state gets its way; as of Monday, a judge’s refusal to grant a temporary injunction in favor of a Planned Parenthood patient fighting in court to continue seeing her regular doctor means that the health care provider is, for the first time, officially barred from the newly operational TWHP.

So, we’re meant to believe that nothing changes for “her,” for Texas’ tens of thousands of “hers,” other than they can no longer see the doctors and clinicians they’ve come to trust with their most intimate and private health needs? Kristofer Monson needs to check whatever he thinks the definition of “nothing” is.

Ladies, how long did it take you to find a gynecologist you clicked with? How many doctors were affordable but out of the way? How many doctors were expensive, but non-judgmental? How many doctors were right next door, but refused certain medications or procedures because of your age, sexuality, or marital status? How many of us are still looking, after years of trying, for a doctor that understands us and the needs of our families?

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It’s hard enough to find a health provider when the State of Texas isn’t telling you who it thinks is qualified to treat you. But Texas thinks it has a right to tell poor women they can’t go to their usual doctors and nurses at Planned Parenthood, not because they provide inferior services or cost more money than other health providers—in fact, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services, Planned Parenthood has historically provided some of the most efficient, cost-effective family planning care in the state—but because they are “affiliates” of doctors who provide a legal medical procedure: abortion.

The state is strong-arming Texans in a not-at-all veiled attempt to legislate morality; it’s telling low-income women that if they want to get the contraception and cancer screenings that the state has agreed to provide for them, they can’t go to a doctor who admits that his or her politics clash with Rick Perry’s, or Dan Patrick’s, or Bill Zedler’s, or with that of any number of the conservative male lawmakers who have appointed themselves official reproductive health decision makers for Texans.

But listen to Kristofer Monson, little ladies! It’s no big deal to find a whole new person in whose hands to put your reproductive health—and reproductive parts. Show your breasts and vulvae to a whole new State of Texas-approved stranger this year, maybe it’ll be great. Or maybe it’ll be horribly embarrassing, even demeaning, who knows? The risk of low-income Texas women being treated by a doctor who believes in reproductive freedom is definitely worth it!

I know it may seem convenient and comforting to see familiar faces when you’re making some of the most important health care decisions of your life, but hey, try something new! Live a little! Even if it takes you miles out of the way, means you have to listen to a religious lecture or forces you to wait months for a doctor’s appointment. Maybe while you’re riding the bus or counting the days down to your pap smear-a-la-stranger, you’ll realize that Texas merely wants what Republicans think is best for you.