Abortion ban, restrictions envisaged – Unicameral update

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The Judiciary Committee heard testimony Feb. 24 on three bills that would change Nebraska abortion regulations. One proposal would ban all abortions in the state while the other measures would restrict access to the procedure.

Senator Joni Albrecht

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The senator. Joni Albrecht

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Senator Joni Albrecht

LB933, introduced by Thurston Sen. Joni Albrecht, would ban abortion in Nebraska if states are given full regulatory authority over the procedure. The bill would take effect based on one of three national “trigger” events: if the U.S. Supreme Court strikes down Roe vs. WadeCongress enacts a law giving states full power to regulate abortion or the US Constitution is amended to give states that power.

The bill would ban medical and chemical abortions from fertilization. A doctor who knowingly violates the provisions of the bill would face a Class IIA felony charge, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.

A physician charged under the provisions of the bill could raise a defense that intervention was necessary to prevent a woman’s death. A woman who attempts or has an abortion would not be liable under the bill. Medical treatment provided by a licensed physician that results in the accidental death or injury of an unborn fetus would also not constitute a violation.

Albrecht said women and children deserved to be loved and deserved better than abortion. LB933 isn’t just pro-life, she says, it’s pro-women, pro-baby and pro-science.

“In Nebraska, there have been nearly 200,000 abortions since Roe vs. Wade was decided in 1973. That’s 10 percent of our state’s population,” Albrecht said. “Every abortion ends the life of an innocent human being – a baby who is alive, growing and has its own unique DNA separate from its mother.”

Sandy Danek, executive director of Nebraska Right to Life, testified on behalf of LB933. A debate that began nearly 50 years ago proclaiming support for women’s rights is now hurting women, Danek said, by pressuring them to have abortions because children are seen as a threat for their freedom.

“If, as a society, we really care about women and unplanned pregnancies, then we need to look at the options available to us,” Danek said.

Testifying on behalf of the Nebraska Family Alliance, Nate Grasz also spoke in support of the bill. All people have the inherent right to life, he said, by virtue of their humanity and not because it is granted to them by the government or others.

“Nebraskanians know it is inconsistent and untenable for our laws to recognize the intentional death of a child in the womb as wanted fetal homicide, but when that life ends in an abortion clinic, it’s called reproductive care,” Grasz said.

Scout Richters spoke out against the bill on behalf of the ACLU of Nebraska. The decision of whether and when to become a parent is one of the most important life decisions a person faces, Richters said, and the government is in the worst position to make that decision for Nebraska families.

“Once a person has made the decision to have an abortion, they should be able to get one without having to delay care, fly to another state, or carry a pregnancy against their will, as we have seen become a reality in Texas,” she said. “This bill has nothing to do with supporting Nebraskanians and everything to do with denying them essential care, dignity and ability to determine their own future.”

Christon MacTaggart, executive director of the Nebraska Coalition to End Sexual and Domestic Violence, also testified against LB933. She said the bill would add barriers to care for victims of domestic violence and sexual violence.

“If a pregnant person is abused, not being able to access a full range of reproductive health care will put their safety at risk and offenders will use this to keep victims in check,” MacTaggart said.

The committee also considered two bills that would restrict abortion access but not enact an outright ban.

Senator Julie Slama

LB781, introduced by Sterling Sen. Julie Slama, would require a doctor to perform an ultrasound before an abortion in an attempt to detect a fetal heart rate and record the estimated gestational age of the fetus. Knowingly performing an abortion after detection of a fetal heartbeat would be illegal, except in a medical emergency.

Under the bill, a doctor who knowingly performs an abortion after detecting a fetal heartbeat could face a Class IIA felony charge, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.

“At six weeks gestation, an ultrasound can pick up a baby’s heartbeat,” Slama said. “When we hear this sound, we know we are listening to the rhythm of life coming from a little human being in its first moments. Abortion stops this beating heart.

LB1086, introduced by Lincoln Sen. Suzanne Geist, would establish a security protocol to prohibit anyone, except a doctor, from providing abortion-inducing medication. The bill would also prohibit abortion-inducing medication from being mailed or otherwise delivered.

Willful violation of these provisions would be a Class IV felony, punishable by up to two years in prison, a $10,000 fine, or both.

Senator Suzanne Geist
Senator Suzanne Geist

LB1086 would also require a physician to file a report with the state Department of Health and Human Services detailing all encounters with a patient directly affected by abortion-inducing drug, including any complications encountered. Intentional failure to file a report would be a class II misdemeanor.

A woman on whom an abortion is attempted, induced or performed would not be subject to prosecution under LB781 or LB1086.

Geist said chemical abortions make up more than 70% of abortions performed in Nebraska and there is currently no prescribed standard of care. The bill would limit the use of chemical agents to the first seven weeks of pregnancy, as the risk of complications increases each week thereafter, she said.

“Currently, there is little to no reporting of chemical abortions and complications in our state and therefore no accountability or follow-up with women who have complications,” Geist said. “Since this accounts for such a large majority of abortions in our state, advocating for safety measures seems like a common sense solution and in the best interests of women.”

John Quinn spoke in favor of both bills on behalf of the Democrats for Life of America Education Fund, saying LB781 would protect the dignity of unborn children and open “more dignified horizons” for their mothers. In addition, regulations under LB1086 would prevent “modern clandestine abortions” from occurring, he said.

“Letting women self-administer strong drugs in their bathrooms is no way to protect their health,” Quinn said.

Testifying on behalf of the Nebraska Catholic Conference was Marion Miner, who also spoke in support of both bills. Between 5 and 20 percent of women experience a chemical abortion-related complication, Miner said, but almost none of those cases are reported by Nebraska abortion clinics.

Deborah Turner, associate medical director of Planned Parenthood North Central States, testified against both bills. She said the safety and effectiveness of medical abortions up to 70 days of gestational age are well documented and there is no reason to reduce the time frame to 49 days.

“Serious complications associated with abortion are extremely rare, occurring in less than a fraction of a percent of patients who have a medical abortion,” Turner said.

Andi Curry Grubb, state executive director for Planned Parenthood North Central States, also testified against the two bills, which she said would place limits on abortion before many women know they are pregnant.

A 2020 report from the state Department of Health and Human Services showed that less than 2% of patients had an abortion at this stage of pregnancy, Curry Grubb said.

The committee took no immediate action on any of the proposals.

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