Nebraska Abortion Ban Fails by One Vote, 20-Week Limit Remains

The Nebraska Legislature failed to pass Legislative Bill 626 on Thursday, which proposed to ban abortions after six weeks of pregnancy, when an ultrasound suggests embryonic cardiac activity. Republican Senator Joni Albrecht’s proposed bill fell short of the required 33 votes to end debate, obtaining 32 votes, with two senators, Merv Riepe of Ralston and Justin Wayne of Omaha, opting to vote present instead of voting altogether. Similar to last year’s near-total abortion ban, LB 626 was defeated by Democratic-led filibusters in the nonpartisan Legislature.

LB 626 is likely to be dead for 2023, unless revived. Politicians who support the ban hope to secure one more vote to revive the bill. However, swing voters like Riepe or Wayne must vote in favour of the bill for the legislation to continue. Gov. Jim Pillen urged Riepe to reconsider his vote, reminding him of his pledge to be a pro-life senator. After the vote, Riepe stated, “Pro-life has shades of grey,” hinting at the potential for a repositioning of his support.

Riepe insisted that LB 626 was too strict for many Nebraskans and would be a cause of Republican losses in 2024. He argued that LB 626 does not provide women with sufficient time to understand if they are pregnant and make informed choices, adding that the six-week gestation period provided by LB 626 was too rigid. Riepe proposed banning abortions after 12 weeks but was not given a fair hearing by conservatives. Due to the unfair gaming system, Riepe opted to withhold the crucial 33rd vote resulting in the failure of the bid.

LB 626 would have eliminated most “elective abortions,” according to Republican senators who support it, including conservative Senators John Lowe of Kearney and Barry DeKay of Niobrara. They shared poems and stories that highlighted the narratives of the unborn who, they said, never had a chance at life.

As LB 626 aimed to impose a six-week ban, a too-extreme law, according to critics, abortion advocates celebrated their victory in the Rotunda, while supporters took a moment to say a prayer in a nearby circle. According to Tom Venzor, the lobbyist for the Nebraska Catholic Conference, a six-week ban was not extreme, citing polling that showed nearly 60% support for the “heartbeat bill.” Despite the setback, supporters of stricter abortion bans were not willing to give up on the bill, hoping to revive it before the session ends in June.

This defeat was a significant setback for supporters of stricter abortion bans, who hope to find a new way to introduce legislation that reduces the number of elective abortions in Nebraska. Moreover, the pro-choice movement’s success highlighted the challenges legislators faced going against public opinion. It appears, for now, that the fight over the legality of abortion in Nebraska will continue.

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