NEW YORK: Nebraska has opened a new front in America’s abortion battle, passing a law that shifts the emphasis away from the unborn baby’s ability to survive outside the womb and on to a previously legally untested concept of foetal pain.Two laws signed by the Governor of Nebraska, Dave Heineman, on Tuesday represent a bold attempt by anti-abortionists to undermine the constitutional right to an abortion established in the Supreme Court ruling Roe v Wade in 1973.Pro-abortion groups denounced the legislation as the most extreme attack yet on women’s reproductive rights.The foetal pain law bans abortions in Nebraska beyond 20 weeks of pregnancy. It cites claims by some doctors that by that stage foetuses show signs that they avoid certain stimuli, indicating that they feel pain. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists said there is no evidence to support that view.Only in cases of a pregnant woman’s imminent death or substantial physical harm would exceptions be allowed.In a second law, all women seeking abortions would have to be screened for mental health or other ”risk factors” that could arise from the procedure.The reliance on pain marks a switch away from previous definitions of legal abortion as set down by Supreme Court rulings since the Roe case. The cut-off has been determined as the viability of the foetus, which is assessed on an individual basis but usually falls between 22 and 24 weeks.Although legislators have presented the law as a reform based on science, there is a strong political incentive for their action. Last May George Tiller, one of the only doctors in America who performed late abortions, was killed by an anti-abortion campaigner.A Nebraska doctor, LeRoy Carhart, promised to take over his role. Politicians feared their state would, as a result, become the focus of the often violent debate.Guardian News & Media
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