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States Seek New Ways to Restrict Abortions

Dozens of states are passing or debating new restrictions on abortion, a trend fueled in part by passage of the nation's new health care law.

Both sides of the hot-button issue are seeing new approaches to reduce abortions.

"This year, particularly in the past couple of weeks, it's really turned into a free-for-all on trying to restrict abortions," said Elizabeth Nash of the Guttmacher Institute, a research group focused on reproductive health and rights.

So far, 2010 has been "very successful," said Mary Spaulding Balch of the National Right to Life Committee.

The most significant legislation, both sides say, is a Nebraska law signed by the governor this month that would ban most abortions at the 20th week of pregnancy based on a new rationale that the fetus feels pain. Legal challenges are likely. Previously, abortion bans were based on when a fetus could survive outside the womb, generally beginning around 22 weeks, according to medical studies.

At least 22 states have bills to increase counseling or waiting periods; 18 states have bills to expand the use of ultrasound, Nash said.

A debate in Congress over abortion coverage through insurance sold in future government-run health marketplaces - called exchanges - nearly derailed passage of the new health care law. Even though President Obama issued an executive order stating that no public funds would go for abortions, several states are seeking to ban abortion coverage from plans sold through their exchanges.

Tennessee lawmakers last week passed a bill that would ban abortion coverage in any plan sold through its exchange. It applies even if premiums were paid with private funds because public funds would help run the exchange, said the bill's sponsor, Republican Sen. Diane Black. Mississippi, Missouri, Louisiana and Oklahoma are considering similar bills. "I think you'll see a lot more next year," said Spaulding Balch.

Other legislation includes:

Oklahoma.@ One of five abortion bills the Senate passed last week would require doctors to show an ultrasound image to the woman, but she can avert her eyes. Gov. Brad Henry, a Democrat, vetoed it Friday, and an override attempt is expected.

Kansas.@ Doctors must give a medical diagnosis justifying late-term abortions under a new bill, which was vetoed by the governor April 15. An override attempt is expected.

Utah.@ A new law makes self-induced abortion a homicide. It was prompted by a girl who paid a man $150 to beat her to try to induce a miscarriage.

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