Politics & Government

Neb. abortion provider may leave state

LINCOLN, Neb. —One of the nation's few late-term abortion providers is considering where he will practice as Nebraska moves toward new restrictions on the procedure and Kansas takes steps aimed at keeping him out.

LeRoy Carhart is exploring all his options, a spokeswoman for the Omaha-area physician said Thursday, in light of a first-of-its-kind bill expected to be approved in Nebraska within the next week. Partially aimed at shutting Carhart down, it would ban abortions at and after 20 weeks of pregnancy based on the assertion that fetuses feel pain at that time.

The criterion now used in Nebraska and elsewhere to block abortions is fetal viability, or the ability to live outside the womb.

"He doesn't have plans to leave, but is exploring his options," said Carhart's spokeswoman, Dionne Scott of the Center for Reproductive Rights. Asked if he might begin practicing in Kansas, she said, "We are not saying Kansas is out of the question."

"We will end up choosing the option that best serves women," she said.

Kansas lawmakers are trying to prevent Carhart from coming there to replace his friend and fellow late-term abortion provider, George Tiller, who was shot to death in Wichita last year. A week ago, Scott Roeder was sentenced to life in prison with no possibility of parole for 50 years for gunning Tiller down.

Kansas lawmakers recently approved a bill that would require doctors to list an exact medical diagnosis justifying a late-term abortion. It adjusts the definition of viability so that a fetus would be considered viable if there's a "reasonable probability" it would survive outside the womb with life-sustaining measures such as an incubator.

It also codifies a state rule that the required second opinion on whether late-term abortions are necessary come from a Kansas doctor. And it would allow a woman or girl — or family members, in the case of a minor — to sue a doctor if they have evidence that a late-term abortion was illegal.

Kansas Gov. Mark Parkinson must decide within the next week whether to allow it to become law. His spokesman wouldn't comment Thursday on the governor' s plans.

Should the Kansas bill become law, and the Nebraska bill is approved as expected, abortion restrictions in Kansas would be less strict than in Nebraska in a couple of significant ways.

Even if the Kansas proposal is enacted, abortions would still be restricted at and after the 22nd week of pregnancy, if the fetus is viable. The Nebraska measure proposes a cutoff at 20 weeks. Under current law in Nebraska, Carhart has said he provides abortions to women who are up to 22 weeks pregnant, and abortions after that are performed if medically necessary.

Another key difference should proposals in both states become law: Women in Nebraska couldn't use mental health problems as a reason to have abortions after the 20-week mark. In Kansas, mental health problems can allow for abortions beyond the normal cutoff time.

A separate bill approved by the Kansas House of Representatives would prohibit late-term abortions on viable fetuses for mental health reasons. The Senate has yet to consider it and may not this year.