Carhart v. Stenberg

Decision Date02 July 1998
Docket NumberNo. 4:97CV3205.,4:97CV3205.
Citation11 F.Supp.2d 1099
PartiesLeroy CARHART, M.D., on behalf of himself and his patients obtaining abortions, Plaintiff, v. Don STENBERG, in his official capacity as Attorney General for the State of Nebraska; Mike Munch, in his official capacity as County Attorney for Sarpy County and as a representative of all county attorneys in Nebraska; Gina Dunning, in her official capacity as Director of Regulation and Licensure of the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services; and Charles Andrews, M.D., in his official capacity as Chief Medical Officer of Nebraska, Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Nebraska

Simon Heller, David Gans, The Center for Reproductive Law & Policy, New York City, Jerry M. Hug, Alan G. Stoler, Omaha, NE, for Plaintiff.

Don Stenberg, Attorney General, Steve Grasz, Deputy Attorney General, James D. Smith, Assistant Attorney General, Lincoln, NE, for Defendants Don Stenberg, Gina Dunning, Charles Andrews.

Tamra L. Walz, Deputy Sarpy County Attorney, Papillion, NE, for Defendant Mike Munch.


KOPF, District Judge.

Because the State of Nebraska has imposed an undue burden on Dr. Carhart and his patients by adopting and threatening to enforce a vague "partial-birth" abortion law, I shall declare the law unconstitutional as applied to Dr. Carhart and his patients. I will also permanently enjoin enforcement of Nebraska's law against the doctor and his patients (and those who are similarly situated). However, I do not reach the question of whether the law is facially invalid. Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 52(a), my reasons for this decision are set forth below.

A. The Parties

1. Plaintiff LeRoy Carhart, M.D., practices medicine and surgery in Nebraska and performs abortions in Bellevue, Sarpy County, Nebraska. (Filing 1, Compl., at 3; Filing 9, Stenberg and Thomas Answer, at 2; Ex. 16, Carhart Curriculum Vitae, at 1, 5.)

2. Carhart received his Doctorate of Medicine in 1973; completed his internship at Malcolm Grow USAF Hospital at Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland, in 1974; and completed his general surgery residency at Hahnemann Medical College and Hospital in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and Atlantic City Medical Center in Atlantic City, New Jersey, in 1978. Carhart is a retired lieutenant colonel in the United States Air Force who served as chief of general surgery, chief of emergency medicine, and chairman of the department of surgery at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska from 1978 to 1985. As part of his duties at Offutt, Carhart supervised 20 to 25 other physicians, including obstetricians and gynecologists. (Tr.1 193:25-194:5.) Carhart has been an assistant professor in the surgery departments of both Creighton University School of Medicine and the University of Nebraska Medical Center. (Ex. 16, Carhart Curriculum Vitae, at 2-4.) Since 1985 Carhart has operated a general medical practice with a specialized abortion facility.2 (Tr. 82:14-21.) He performs 800 abortions each year. (Tr. 83:3.) Carhart has never attempted to become certified by a medical specialty board and currently has no hospital privileges. (Tr. 139:2-25.) He is licensed to practice medicine in eight states. (Ex. 16, Carhart Curriculum Vitae, at 5.)

3. Defendant Don Stenberg is attorney general of the State of Nebraska. Defendant Gina Dunning is director of the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services Regulation and Licensure. (Filing 1, Compl., at 3-4; Filing 9, Stenberg Answer, at 2; Order on Final Pretrial Conf. at 2.) Defendant Mike Munch is the elected county attorney for Sarpy County, Nebraska, and is responsible for the enforcement of criminal law within Sarpy County. (Filing 1, Compl., at 3-4; Filing 11, Munch Answer, at 1.) Defendant Charles Andrews, M.D., is the Chief Medical Officer for Nebraska who has disciplinary authority over medical license holders in Nebraska, pursuant to Neb.Rev.Stat. § 81-3201 (Michie Supp.1997).

B. Legislative Bill 23

4. On June 3, 1997, the Nebraska Unicameral passed Legislative Bill 23 ("LB 23") with an emergency clause making it effective upon the governor's signature on June 9, 1997. (Ex. 6.) On August 14, 1997, I enjoined Defendants from enforcing LB 23 against Dr. Carhart "regarding his performance of D & X abortions on nonviable fetuses." (Filing 19 at 58.)

5. Legislative Bill 23 prohibits "partial-birth abortions" in the State of Nebraska "unless such procedure is necessary to save the life of the mother whose life is endangered by a physical disorder, physical illness, or physical injury, including a life-endangering physical condition caused by or arising from the pregnancy itself." LB 23 § 3(1), codified at Neb.Rev.Stat. § 28-328(1) (Michie 1997).

6. Legislative Bill 23 defines "partial-birth abortion" as follows:

Partial-birth abortion means an abortion procedure in which the person performing the abortion partially delivers vaginally a living unborn child before killing the unborn child and completing the delivery. For purposes of this subdivision, the term partially delivers vaginally a living unborn child before killing the unborn child means deliberately and intentionally delivering into the vagina a living unborn child, or a substantial portion thereof, for the purpose of performing a procedure that the person performing such procedure knows will kill the unborn child and does kill the unborn child.

LB 23 § 2(9), codified at Neb.Rev.Stat. § 28-326(9) (Michie 1997).

7. Legislative Bill 23 makes the "intentional and knowing performance of an unlawful partial-birth abortion" a Class III felony, as well as grounds for automatic suspension and revocation of an attending physician's license to practice medicine in Nebraska. LB 23 § 3(2) & (4), codified at Neb.Rev.Stat. § 28-328(4) & (5) (Michie 1997).

8. "Partial-birth abortion" is not a recognized medical term. (Tr. 88:18-89:6, Carhart Test.; Tr. 216:3-13, Hodgson Test.)

C. Abortion Procedures

9. Carhart performs abortions in a clinic setting from a gestational age of 3 weeks until fetal viability,3 with gestational age being measured from the first day of a woman's last menstrual period, as verified by ultrasound. (Tr. 83:9-84:5; 141:20-22.) Of the 800 women on whom Carhart performed abortions in 1996, 200 were past their 14th week of pregnancy. (Tr. 83:1-3; 185:14-24.) As far as he knows, Carhart is the only abortion provider in Nebraska who performs elective abortions past 16 weeks' gestation. (Tr. 132:10-18.)

10. If a woman wants an abortion after viability and the abortion is not medically indicated, Carhart refers the patient elsewhere. (Tr. 87:13-22.) If a patient comes to him for an abortion and "there is any concern of fetal viability," Carhart does not use his own judgment to determine viability, but instead insists on a specific referral from the patient's physician identifying fetal flaws, stating that the fetus is not viable, and stating that the patient needs an abortion. (Tr. 174:4-16.)

11. Carhart performs abortions on patients whose health, rather than life, would be preserved by having an abortion, such as those with severe renal disease, severe diabetes that has required hospitalization, and hyperemesis gravidarum, a condition characterized by constant vomiting throughout pregnancy such that the pregnant woman loses a good portion of her body weight. Carhart has also performed abortions on patients who indicated that if abortion had not been an option for them, they would have considered attempting a self-induced abortion or suicide. (Tr. 133:16-134:11.)

12. Carhart selects the abortion procedure he will use on various patients based on gestational age and other medical factors. (Tr. 84:6-12.)

13. The parties have stipulated to the admission of Exhibit 7, which is a portion of the American Medical Association's (AMA's) "Report of the Board of Trustees on Late-Term Abortion." The board of trustees prepared and submitted the report to the AMA's board of delegates in May, 1997, in response to the passage of a 1996 resolution by the delegates calling for the AMA to conduct a study of late-term pregnancy termination techniques. (Filing 13 ¶ 2; Tr. 326:7-327:16.) Hereinafter, Exhibit 7 shall be referred to as the "AMA report."4

14. The parties have also stipulated to the admission of Exhibit 24, which is a January, 1997, statement of policy issued by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists Executive Board on "intact dilatation and extraction."

1. Suction Curettage or Vacuum Aspiration

15. The AMA report indicates that suction curettage, or vacuum aspiration, is the most common means of inducing abortion from the 6th through the 12th week of gestation. (Ex. 7, at 7:29-30.) The AMA report describes this procedure as follows:

Prior to the procedure a pelvic examination is done to determine the size and position of the uterus. A speculum is used to visualize the cervix, a local anesthetic such as a paracervical block is administered, and the cervix is then dilated using rigid dilators (e.g., the Pratt dilator). Osmotic dilators may be used prior to the procedure. Once the cervix is sufficiently dilated, a suction tube is inserted and rotated inside the uterus to loosen and remove the contents. The suction tube may be attached to a suction machine or syringe. A curette may be used to scrape the endometrium, thereby ensuring the removal of any remaining tissue. These procedures are typically performed on an outpatient basis.

(Ex. 7, at 7:31-37 (footnotes omitted).)

16. Carhart uses curettage5 with vacuum aspiration from approximately the 12th through the 15th week of gestation. Carhart stated that "[a]t about the 12th or 13th week, we usually use curettage with vacuum aspiration up through the 15th, 16th week, after that 16th week, generally, it's a dilation and evacuation procedure." (Tr. 84:20-23.) At another point, Carhart stated that the "14th to 15th week" was the latest he...

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