NATIONAL NEWS

Abortion-restriction effort reintroduced in Nebraska

May 8, 2023, 7:47 PM

A new effort was introduced late Monday in the Nebraska Legislature to restrict abortion access in the state, less than two weeks after a bill that would have banned abortion at around six weeks of pregnancy failed to overcome a filibuster.

The new plan to ban abortion at 12 weeks of pregnancy drew fervent protests from opponents who had been assured by Speaker of the Legislature Sen. John Arch that the abortion proposal was dead for the session.

Drawing even more outrage was the way the measure was introduced: as an amendment to a bill that would ban gender-affirming hormone treatments and gender reassignment surgery for minors — the most controversial bill of the session that has led at least two lawmakers to filibuster every bill before the body this year.

Omaha Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh, who has led the filibuster effort since late February to protest the trans bill, angrily promised Monday night to ratchet up her efforts to further slow the work of the Legislature following the abortion amendment.

“We have 161 hours after today. That is going from 9 a.m. to midnight,” she said. “And you better believe I’m going to maximize every minute of that. Every single minute of it.”

In late April, an abortion bill that would have banned abortion once cardiac activity can be detected failed to get the 33 votes it needed to end the debate on it. Historically, that means the bill is shelved for the remainder of the session.

Sen. Ben Hansen, a chiropractor from Blair, introduced the 12-week abortion ban on Monday, billing it as a reboot of a compromise amendment introduced during the abortion debate last month by Republican Sen. Merv Riepe. Riepe had initially supported the 6-week ban, but he later voiced concern that the measure was too extreme. When his fellow Republicans rejected his compromise amendment to push the ban to 12 weeks, he withheld his vote on the motion to end debate, leading to the abortion bill’s failure.

But opponents note stark differences in Hansen’s amendment and Riepe’s. While Hansen’s measure offers exceptions for rape, incest and the life of the mother, it does not include an exception for fatal fetal anomalies, as Riepe’s bill did. Hansen’s proposal also criminalizes abortion for doctors who perform it outside the exceptions listed.

Opponents of both abortion restrictions and the trans bill said the latest effort by conservative lawmakers that combines both subverts legislative rules that require two combined measures to be related and that call for any proposal that imposes a criminal element to first go through the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee.

Adding the abortion ban as an amendment to the trans bill also means it gets to skip ahead in the legislative process. Instead of going through three rounds of debate that every bill must survive to pass, it would be subjected only to a final two-hour round of debate, critics said.

Liberal lawmakers in the officially nonpartisan body also complained that a promise last month by Arch and the author of the trans bill, freshman Sen. Kathleen Kauth, to reach a compromise with opponents on her bill before it was scheduled for a final round of debate never came to fruition. Instead, conservative lawmakers decided among themselves to make exceptions for minors already receiving gender-affirming care and call it a compromise, opponents said.

At a minimum, opponents wanted sections of the bill that would ban gender-affirming hormone treatments removed.

Omaha Sen. Jen Day railed against the move, noting that she and other lawmakers had heeded calls by conservative leaders to “keep the temperature down” during bill debates so as not to upset the compromise efforts on the trans bill.

“And we did, in good faith,” Day said. “And then today, the proponents of the bill came in, threw a bunch of gasoline on the carpet, threw a match on the chamber, and lit the building on fire. So much for keeping the temperature down.”

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Abortion-restriction effort reintroduced in Nebraska