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Charges dropped against woman accused of lying to get Medicaid abortion

August 6, 1997

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) _ After she came home in tears, with a torn shirt and jeans, the young woman called a rape crisis hot line. After she found out she was pregnant, she called an abortion clinic. Never did she call police.

For that, the 22-year-old mother of two was charged with welfare fraud, accused of lying about being raped to get Medicaid to pay for her abortion. Her attorney called it the first case of its kind in the nation.

Wednesday, more than five months after the charges were filed, they were dropped. Dawes County Attorney Vance Haug explained that they were ``not appropriate at this time.″

``There’s certainly an anti-abortion, anti-women attitude among some local officials,″ said Matt LeMieux, executive director of the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. ``We can’t depend on local and state officials to protect a woman’s right to choose.″

Medicaid, a federal-state health care program for the poor, pays for abortions only in cases of rape, incest or to save the mother’s life. Medicaid officials said the program paid for 236 abortions last year. The number specifically citing rape as the reason was unavailable.

Nebraska officials require that women report rapes to police to qualify for Medicaid-funded abortions. But the woman’s attorney, Simon Heller of the New York-based Center for Reproductive Law and Policy, said the law does not require such notification.

``A lot of women who are raped are not in a psychological position to report that crime because they do not want to relive the trauma of the rape again and again in the criminal process,″ Heller said. ``I think the reasons she didn’t want to report is it she didn’t want to have to go through the ordeal of prosecuting the man who raped her.″

The woman’s mother said her daughter came home in tears last year, wearing a torn T-shirt and jeans. Instead of calling police in the remote northwestern Nebraska ranching community where she lived, she called a rape crisis hot line.

Two months later, her family doctor confirmed she was pregnant. She drove more than 400 miles across the state to one of the few doctors in the state who performs abortions. Medicaid paid for it.

The first word to police came from the woman’s doctor. A Nebraska State Patrol interviewed the woman, but she did not want to press charges.

In interviews with police, the woman first said the rape happened in a state park and later said it happened in a motel room. Heller said his client changed her story because she did not think police would believe her if she said the rape was by someone she knew.

She had met the man two days before the April 10, 1996, incident at the motel. Heller did not know why she agreed to the meeting.

The woman had married as a teen-ager and had two children before that marriage ended. She has since remarried and had a third child.

Had the woman been tried and convicted on the welfare fraud charges, she would have faced up to a year in jail.

Update hourly