Nebraska State Senator Merv Riepe Proposes Relaxed 12-Week Abortion Ban

LINCOLN, Neb. (Nebraska Examiner) – The road to passing a proposed abortion ban in Nebraska after an ultrasound detects heart activity ran into a roadblock the size of Ralston on Wednesday.

Ralston State Senator Merve Riepe, a former hospital administrator who has supported previous efforts to limit abortion, has proposed changing the restriction in Legislative Bill 626 to instead make abortions illegal after 12 weeks.

He said he and other senators who oppose abortion but prefer a “measured approach” want to discuss an alternative to the “heartbeat bill,” which sponsors say would essentially ban abortions after about six weeks’ gestation.

“I wish we had had the debate before things got tabled, but we didn’t,” he said. “Sometimes you have to do what it takes when something deserves a discussion.”

Riepe said he introduced the amendment and came close to explaining his reasons for introducing it to state Senator Joni Albrecht of Thurston, who sponsored LB 626. Riepe co-sponsored the more restrictive bill.

Riepe said “the six-week ban equals a total ban,” which many of his constituents oppose, he said. Her comments echoed the views of most of the doctors who testified against LB 626 in a public hearing.

Riepe said he doesn’t like surprises and didn’t like surprising anyone with his amendment. But, he said, he was surprised when LB 626 was introduced instead of a 12-week ban.

Albrecht disappointed

Albrecht told him Wednesday that she was disappointed with his amendment. She told reporters that losing Riepe’s cloture vote could put the bill at risk of falling into a filibuster from abortion-rights advocates.

The bill needs 33 votes to pass a filibuster. Albrecht said he has just enough support to push the bill over the limit, but the departure of just one supporter could stall him.

He said Riepe’s 12-week ban “is not acceptable to me or the other 32 (supporters).” She argued that her bill “isn’t about a ban.”

“It’s sad,” she said, adding that her amendment has created confusion about whether or not she will ultimately vote for the bill.

Riepe said he has no problem being the 33rd vote to get LB 626 past the first round of debate. But he wants “a full and fair debate” on his amendment in the second round of debate, he said.

Riepe said he knows it will turn people against him, but said it’s worth arguing, even if it means he has to “get a dog so I can have a friend.”

Senators had discussed 12 weeks

Anti-abortion groups including Nebraska Right to Life and the Nebraska Family Alliance have argued that Nebraska should ban abortions outright. The state currently bans abortions after 20 weeks.

In the last legislative session, the senators lost two votes before passing a bill introduced by Albrecht and the then-senator. Mike Flood to ban abortion in Nebraska if Roe v. Wade was overturned.

After the US Supreme Court took that step in June and sent the decision back to the US, Riepe said he gladly signed a letter last summer from then Legislature chairman Mike Hilgers to uphold a 12-year ban. weeks into a special session, but supporters failed to find the 33 senators needed.

He said he was surprised to see the new legislation reverting to using heart activity as the standard, because it usually occurs around six weeks of gestational age.

Riepe said she’s heard from doctors and voters that most women won’t know they’re pregnant in time to make an ultrasound appointment, let alone decide.

She fears that women who want to terminate their pregnancies may try to induce their own abortions or harm themselves.

She said she also fears that LB 626 will encourage women who miss their heart deadline to accuse a partner of sexual assault, which could lead to criminal investigations and charges.

All sides to watch

Andi Curry Grubb of Planned Parenthood of Nebraska said her group isn’t celebrating Riepe’s amendment, because it still limits a woman’s ability to exercise autonomy over her own body.

Grubb said state senators who oppose abortion are realizing that Nebraska doesn’t want them to pass a bill “as extreme as LB 626.” And women and their allies must keep working.

“It’s interesting that there is someone who is so conservative and has been so conservative … that he would be the one to raise these questions,” Grubb said.

“The outlook on this bill has changed literally every day for the past three weeks,” he said. “We can’t relax until the bill is defeated.”

Anti-abortion activists met on Wednesday to find a way forward.

Nate Grasz of the Nebraska Family Alliance and Sandy Danek of Nebraska Right to Life said their organizations oppose Riepe’s amendment.

“This amendment will cost 1,700 lives,” Grasz said.

Danek said LB 626 will stop more than 2,000 abortions annually, based on 2021 statistics compiled by the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services. About 300 abortions a year in Nebraska are performed after 12 weeks.

Nebraska Examiner senior reporter Paul Hammel contributed to this report.

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