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Nebraska doctors’ group supports preserving reproductive rights | Health and Fitness

The Nebraska Medical Association has adopted a resolution supporting the preservation of reproductive rights, marking a shift away from the group’s formerly neutral stance.

Technically, the organization, which represents about 3,000 physicians, residents and medical students across the state, adopted three resolutions on the topic last week, said Dr. Daniel Rosenquist, the group’s newly elected president and a family medicine physician in Columbus.

Two resolutions support preserving the physician-patient relationship and allowing physicians to provide care while avoiding criminal prosecution, he said.

The third, introduced by Dr. Maureen Boyle of Omaha, opposes limitations on access to reproductive health services, including fertility treatments, contraception, abortion and neonatal hospice.

That resolution also opposes any effort to undermine the notion that clinical assessments, such as the viability of a pregnancy and the safety of a pregnant person, should be made by health care professionals and their patients. It also opposes the imposition of criminal and civil penalties against patients, physicians and others for receiving, assisting in, referring or providing reproductive health services.

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Rosenquist said there has been a lot of uncertainty nationally about whether physicians might face criminal penalties for providing services they think are in the best interests of their patients. The resolution of court cases pending across the country eventually may provide some clarity.

“As physicians, we just don’t know (whether) we (will) face criminal actions for some of those things we think are in the best interests of patients,” he said. The list includes fertility treatments and management of ectopic pregnancies, a potentially life-threatening situation that occurs when an embryo implants outside the uterus.

Rosenquist acknowledged that the issue is controversial. He said the organization has heard from people on both sides.

Among those objecting is Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts. “I’m disappointed the NMA chose to adopt this radical resolution, put forward by a Democratic Party politician, that advocates for abortion up to the time of birth,” he said in a statement.

The resolution does not specify a timeframe when abortion would be allowed. Boyle is an obstetrician/gynecologist with Methodist Health System and a member of the Douglas County Board.

Boyle said she modeled the resolution on a similar one adopted by the American Medical Association. She said she was prompted to seek a more definitive resolution from the association by her reading last spring of LB933, which would have banned most abortions if Roe v. Wade was overturned. That happened in June.

That bill, which failed to advance in the Nebraska Legislature, would have had a greater impact on how physicians treat pregnant people than the restrictions already in place in the state, she said. The potential for felony charges also caught her attention.

“We’re trying to protect the physician-patient relationship and allow us to practice medicine the way we were trained to do so,” Boyle said.

Officials with Nebraska Right to Life, which opposes abortion, have said LB933 was not intended to apply to in vitro fertilization or to treatments for women who suffer miscarriages or ectopic pregnancies. Proponents of the measure, they said, did their best to answer such questions during debate on the bill.

Nebraska law allows abortions up to 20 weeks after conception. LB933 would have made it a felony for anyone to provide any medication or undertake any procedure with the intent of ending the life of an unborn child, starting at fertilization. The woman undergoing an abortion, however, could not be charged.

LB933 would not have provided exemptions, including for rape or incest. Physicians charged under the law, however, would be allowed to use as a defense that the abortion was necessary to prevent the woman’s death or serious, permanent impairment of a life-sustaining organ.

The medical association resolution was supported by a majority of members who attended the organization’s annual meeting. While it won’t affect how state senators vote, Boyle said, it will provide a backdrop for association members as they decide at a future legislative meeting whether to support or reject future bills introduced by those senators.

“Knowing that physicians with boots on the ground feel this way,” she said, “hopefully will let them know we really need their help in doing the right thing for patients.”

The introduction of any new legislative proposals, however, apparently will wait for the opening of the Legislature’s next session in January.

Ricketts announced earlier this month that he would not call for a special session to debate stricter abortion restrictions in Nebraska, citing a lack of votes in support of proposed legislation. That announcement came after Speaker of the Legislature Mike Hilgers sent a letter with signatures from 30 senators supporting a special session to debate a 12-week abortion ban, three votes short of the 33 votes needed for a filibuster-ending cloture motion.

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