- Associated Press - Friday, February 10, 2017

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - A Nebraska senator is pushing for physicians to provide information about support and hospice care to parents who learn their unborn child has an abnormality and is likely to die within three months of birth, prompting emotional testimony from women on Friday to a legislative committee.

Sen. Joni Albrecht’s daughter learned after 18 weeks of pregnancy that her baby had a medical condition and wouldn’t survive. That experience led Albrecht, a freshman senator from Thurston, to draft the bill.

“Unfortunately, many parents faced with this horrifying condition find themselves adrift without a life raft,” she said.

The bill requires the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services to compile a list of perinatal hospice services, which support families from the time their unborn child is diagnosed through the infant’s birth and death.

Several self-described “warrior moms,” whose unborn children were diagnosed with a fetal abnormality, told the committee about their experiences, often pausing to wipe away tears.

Omaha resident Anastasia Vaughn said her doctor told her the only choices were to terminate her pregnancy or try amniocentesis, a test used to diagnose chromosomal abnormalities that carries a small risk of miscarriage. She chose to continue the pregnancy, and when it ended with a stillbirth, she said she was offered birth control and antidepressants but no other help.

“I felt like I had been lost in the system, and I wonder how many mothers have been where I was,” she said.

Perinatal hospice gives families opportunities to experience firsts such as holding, bathing and diapering new babies, even if they’re not born alive, said Shawna Hoffman of Omaha. She co-founded a nonprofit organization that provides support for families whose children die during pregnancy or infancy after she miscarried twice and had a third infant die during labor.

“Every single moment that a parent has with a child is irreplaceable,” Hoffman said. “I wish I could have had even one moment with my son in my arms.”

As written, the bill would require doctors to inform a prospective mother in-person that perinatal hospice services are available, and to provide written information about these services. Albrecht said she plans to amend the bill to make this an option for physicians, not a mandate.

The Nebraska Medical Association and Planned Parenthood of the Heartland initially opposed the bill because of language implying a mandate. The Nebraska Medical Association now supports it.

Planned Parenthood of the Heartland still had concerns about ensuring low-income families and those in rural areas would have access to perinatal hospice services and that wording on information compiled by state employees would shame women who opted to terminate pregnancies, public affairs director Meg Mikolajczyk said.

“We would not be fulfilling our mission if we were not standing up for families and making sure women were given medically accurate information that’s judgment-free,” she said.

Albrecht, who opposes abortion even in cases of rape or incest or where continuing the pregnancy could cause the mother’s death, said after the hearing there’s no need to include information about terminating pregnancies because the information would be shared after 20 weeks of pregnancy, which would be too late to have a legal abortion in Nebraska. The state in 2010 became the first in the nation to ban abortions after 20 weeks.

Fifteen other states now ban abortion after 20 weeks, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research and policy organization that supports abortion rights. And even in states without bans, few physicians will perform late-term abortions.


Follow Julia Shumway on Twitter at https://twitter.com/JMShumway

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