Abortion foes see Kansas website as model - LivewellNebraska.com
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Abortion foes see Kansas website as model

LINCOLN — An ultrasound video of a human embryo greets visitors to a Kansas state website created for women considering an abortion.

As the camera circles, the webbed hands, round belly, dark eye sockets, tiny bump of a nose and beating heart of the 6-week-old embryo come into clear view.

Kansans for Life credits the video, along with information about fetal development, with persuading hundreds of pregnant women not to have abortions.

Leaders of Nebraska Right to Life hope to get legislation passed next year to duplicate the Kansas experience.

“Kansas is the gold standard now,” said Julie Schmit-Albin, executive director of the Nebraska anti-abortion group.

She has put out a call seeking state lawmakers to sponsor a bill in the coming legislative session amending Nebraska's informed consent requirements for women seeking to terminate their pregnancies.

She said she wants something similar to the Kansas law, which requires the state to publish information about fetal development and abortion. The information must include what are called 4-D ultrasound videos, which show movement, as well as still 3-D images, and must be available online and as a DVD.

Kansas law also requires women to be provided with the state's information at least 24 hours before an abortion. Clinics typically do so with a link from their websites to the state site.

“The number choosing life has greatly increased with the online website,” said Kathy Ostrowski, a lobbyist for the Kansas group, who points to the accelerated decline in Kansas abortion numbers after 2008, when the site went live.

Nebraska's informed consent for abortion law, passed in 1993, requires the Department of Health and Human Services to publish materials about fetal development, abortion procedures and risks, and the risks of carrying a pregnancy to term.

In addition, state law requires physicians, physician's assistants or nurses to tell women certain specific information at least 24 hours before an abortion.

The law says women must be told they can review the state government materials if they choose.

HHS makes printed booklets, with color drawings of fetal development, available by request. The booklets also are on the agency's website. But Schmit-Albin said the information is difficult to find and has been little used.

The Web page linking to the booklet has had 157 views since January 2011, an HHS spokeswoman said. She did not have information about requests for the printed booklet.

By contrast, the Kansas website has received 152,173 hits from May 2010 through June of this year, Ostrowski said.

“There's got to be a better way to provide the informed consent information,” Schmit-Albin said. “What was state-of-the-art in 1993 is not state-of-the-art today.”

As with anything touching on abortion, however, the idea generates controversy.

Jill June, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, expressed concern about adding to the requirements in Nebraska law.

Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, based in Des Moines, offers abortions in Omaha, Lincoln, Council Bluffs and 14 other locations in Iowa, as part of a full range of reproductive health care for women, men and families.

June said a pregnant woman should have accurate information about all her options to “help her make the best decision for herself, her family and her circumstances.”

“Information should not be provided with the intent of shaming, coercing or making a woman change her mind,” she said.

Planned Parenthood's Nebraska spokeswoman, Susan Allen, said the Kansas law was crafted by “an extreme organization” that wants to pressure women to change their minds about abortion, rather than to inform them.

Nebraska law already requires that women be given the opportunity to see an ultrasound of their pregnancy before undergoing an abortion.

Iowa has no special requirements for informed consent before abortion.

In 2000, former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack vetoed a bill that would have required women to be provided with specific information at least 24 hours before proceeding with an abortion.

More recent attempts at passing such legislation have failed.

Getting anti-abortion legislation passed in the Nebraska Legislature looks to become more difficult next year in Nebraska with the return of State Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha, a staunch defender of abortion rights.

Still, a 4-D ultrasound proposal may not be the only abortion-related bill introduced in the 2013 session.

Greg Schleppenbach, a lobbyist with the Nebraska Catholic Conference, and Suzanne Gage, director of Americans United for Life Nebraska, said they want to try again to get legal protection for health care providers who refuse to provide care based on religious, moral or ethical objections.

But both said they would support efforts to amend the Nebraska informed consent laws.

“If this is another means of making sure that women have access to the best information available about fetal development, I don't know why anyone would oppose that,” Schleppenbach said.

Click here to view the Kansas website with the 4-D ultrasound video.

Click here to view Nebraska's information booklet.

Contact the writer: 402-473-9583, martha.stoddard@owh.com

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