Nebraska

Several Nebraska towns are doing everything in their power to ban abortion, report shows

In July, Pastor Bill Forbes left his home around 5 p.m. and did not return until after sunset for three weeks.

The Lutheran pastor went door-to-door in his western Nebraska community and asked his neighbors if they would sign a petition to ban abortions in Paxton.

Paxton, population 516, lacks an abortion clinic. Denver, the closest abortion provider, is located 230 miles away. It is farther from Lincoln, the closest provider in Nebraska.

According to Forbes, 138 people signed the petition. In November, Paxon citizens will have the opportunity to vote.

This year, six Nebraska towns, including Paxton, will vote on whether or not to ban abortions within their city lines, as the national battle over abortion reaches small-town ballot boxes. Three municipalities in Nebraska have already enacted their own bans. Bellevue, which is home to one of the state’s three abortion clinics, is among the localities collecting signatures to attempt the same.

If enacted, these ordinances would permit citizens to sue clinics, physicians, and nurses who perform abortions within city bounds. Many states also permit lawsuits against Nebraskans suspected of “aiding or abetting” an abortion, including activities such as transporting a woman to an abortion facility or subscribing to an abortion fund.

What these initiatives have in common is Mark Lee Dickson, a Texas-based anti-abortion evangelist. Dickson, armed with pre-written ordinances, knowledge of local government procedures, and a team of volunteers to collect signatures, traverses the country from city to city, spreading abortion restrictions.

The proposed ordinances differ little. The objectives are the same: Prohibit abortions and medications that induce abortions. Make it illegal to perform or assist in an abortion. Some even attempt to restrict access to abortion-related websites on the Internet.

In practice, these regulations may not vary significantly. With the exception of Bellevue, none of the other towns and cities have an abortion clinic. In Nebraska, it is unlawful to receive abortion drugs via mail-order telemedicine. In a jurisdiction where abortions are authorized up to 20 weeks after conception, experts believe the ordinances may be unenforceable.

Anthony Schutz, a law professor at the University of Nebraska College of Law, stated, “There is a strong argument that, even if local governments have some authority, they would be preempted by…state laws.” I believe it is very evident that cities lack the jurisdiction to control this.

Advocates for choice in these communities are concerned that the regulations, whether or not they are enforceable, will have a chilling effect on women seeking care.

“I’ve witnessed people succeed on their own terms. Erin Pascoe, a certified nurse in Curtis, one of the municipalities voting on a ban in November, stated, “I fear for their life.” Making it less accessible will just exacerbate the problem.

The proposed prohibitions serve as a message to the rest of Nebraska for locals such as the Lutheran pastor in Paxton who advocate for the issue. Regarding their beliefs. Regarding the distance they feel from the state’s eastern metropolitan area. And about what they want: an abortion-free Nebraska.

Forbes stated, “We in the Panhandle being pushed around by eastern Nebraska.” “The necessary changes to defend our country will not come from Washington or from Abraham Lincoln. Here, where the grass grows, real transformations will occur.

***

When Laurie Viter’s pastor asked her if she wanted to attempt to outlaw abortion in her hometown of Brady, she responded affirmatively.

Viter is a counselor at the Women’s Resource Center in North Platte, a prenatal health center that is anti-abortion and does not perform or refer for abortions. After the Supreme Court overruled Roe v. Wade in June, she was dismayed that Governor Pete Ricketts did not call a special session to implement some sort of restriction.

Viter observed what Hayes Center had accomplished, and she desired to implement the same changes in Brady.

In April 2021, Hayes Center, Nebraska, became the first municipality in Nebraska to prohibit abortions within city bounds.

The 224-person village in southwestern Nebraska joined a group called “Sanctuary Cities for the Unborn,” which now includes 49 towns throughout the country.

Similar to Hayes Center, these locations are predominantly rural, thinly inhabited, and hundreds of miles from a physical abortion facility.

Similarly to Hayes Center, they all enacted abortion bans after interacting with the Texas evangelist Dickson.

Dickson, the director of Right to Life of East Texas, originally suggested a municipal abortion ban in Waskom, Texas, three years ago.

Curtis resident and local EMT Erin Pascoe demonstrates some of the equipment included within a Frontier County ambulance. Last year at the city council meeting, Republican Pascoe encouraged the council not to outlaw abortion. “This was not in women’s best interests. The EMT stated that this was not something the city of Curtis should even consider.
In the days following her appearance before the municipal council, she reported that friends and neighbors with whom she had never addressed abortion congratulated her for coming up. Austin Refior was the photographer for the Flatwater Free Press.

The ordinance featured a novel legal twist in that it would be enforced by private parties. Individuals would sue clinics, doctors, and nurses for performing abortions, as well as average individuals suspected of “aiding or abetting” an abortion by, for example, transporting a woman to a clinic.

The local policy became state law in Texas, a measure that, according to Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, “appointed the state’s inhabitants as bounty hunters.”

The original ordinance has now been enacted in Hayes Center, Blue Hill, and Stapleton, Nebraska.

Residents in Arnold, Brady, Curtis, Hershey, Paxon, and Wallace, along with Dickson’s group, gathered enough signatures over the summer to put the ban to a vote in six other Nebraska communities this November: Arnold, Brady, Curtis, Hershey, Paxon, and Wallace.

The boards and councils in these communities could have passed a ban themselves — Dickson’s preferred course of action — but they opted to let the voters decide.

Legal experts stated that cities and towns in Nebraska certainly lack the authority to implement an actual abortion ban, regardless of what the ordinances claim to achieve.

With Roe v. Wade overturned, it is now a question of state law whether the ordinances have legal validity. The Nebraska Legislature must officially authorize the regulatory authority of cities and villages other than Lincoln and Omaha.

Experts in state constitutional law do not believe that currently includes abortion.

Under Nebraska law, communities lack the ability to regulate this type of activity, according to Schutz.

Even if they did, according to the legal expert, ordinances that clash with state law are unenforceable.

Thus, the proposed bans resemble “virtue signaling,” according to law professor Richard Rosen of Texas Tech University.

Rosen stated, “If this violates state law, the lawsuits will not go that far.”

The office of Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson declined comment when reached through a spokeswoman.

Dickson asserts that the regulations are enforceable. Cities and towns have the authority to control health and welfare, and he believes that abortion falls under this jurisdiction.

This policy is intended to safeguard these people and their cultures, he explained. There are others that want Nebraska to resemble Texas more.

Dickson is working with at least ten additional towns in Nebraska that are still collecting signatures. The majority are concentrated along I-80 near North Platte. Last year, he spoke at a Women’s Resource Center fundraising luncheon, which increased Nebraskans’ interest, he added.

According to him, the overturning of Roe v. Wade expedited these efforts.

Forbes, a registered Democrat and pastor in Paxton, reported that the majority of his 35 regular Sunday attendees signed his petition.

Viter, a resident of Brady, has never participated in politics or addressed her city council before. She stated that Dickson and his volunteers collected all signatures in the town of 383 by themselves.

Melanie Standiford helped collect 47 signatures in Curtis. Standiford is the news director at KNOP, a television station and NBC affiliate serving the North Platte area. She has written extensively about the very topic she petitioned for in her city.

Curtis is known as the Easter Capital of Nebraska. A adjacent hill features three crosses that overlook the city of 806. Standiford stated in an interview with the Flatwater Free Press that everyone she knows is Christian and anti-abortion. She believed that the ordinance would enjoy such widespread support that it would not be problematic.

When questioned if it was appropriate for a journalist to cover a political issue, Standiford responded, “You’re probably correct, I probably, maybe shouldn’t have even done it. But who realized there would be a problem?”

***

This is not the first time Curtis has considered enacting an abortion ban.

Dickson brought his ordinance to the Curtis City Council last fall, when Roe v. Wade was still the law of the land in the United States. Concerned that it breached the law, they invalidated it.

Erin Pascoe appeared before the five male members of the city council and explained why she believed an abortion ban had no place in the 41-year-old community she calls home.

She stated that abortion availability is already restricted in southwest Nebraska. As a volunteer EMT and registered Republican, she fears that a ban will create legal nightmares for her and other first responders who treat miscarriages.

“This was not in women’s best interests. “This was not anything the City of Curtis should ever consider,” the nurse stated.

She reported that friends and neighbors with whom she had never addressed abortion congratulated her for speaking up.

Whether or not the proposed abortion prohibitions are enforceable, they will still have a chilling effect, according to ACLU of Nebraska attorney Scout Richters. None of the ordinances penalize women for having abortions; rather, they target those who perform or facilitate abortions.

She stated that the misunderstanding itself is a deterrent.

Richters stated, “They cultivate this spirit of dread and misinformation around people’s access to abortion.” “The strategy is to restrict abortion access by all means feasible.”

It is uncertain how and when the courts will evaluate the ordinances, Schutz added. Typically, the Nebraska Supreme Court determines the constitutionality of a measure only after it has passed. Who the challenge would need to come from is also unknown.

“How can we reach a point when the court says, ‘No, city, you cannot do this?'” “This is intended to be challenging,” Schutz added. The authors of this text have raised as many obstacles as they possibly could.

Former Texas solicitor general and attorney who helped draft the laws, Jonathan Mitchell, has informed municipalities that he will represent them for free if the ordinances are challenged in court. In other states, no ordinances have been struck down to yet. However, some municipalities have retreated on which elements of the law they would actually execute. Two of the 51 municipalities that have imposed abortion bans to date have repealed their legislation within months.

Three years of promoting local abortion bans have earned Dickson national fame. He travels from state to state, where he has become a household name among pro-life activists.

On January 6, 2021, he was in Washington when insurrectionists attacked the Capitol. On Saturday, he spoke at a Nebraskans for Founders’ Values event that demanded a minimum donation of $20 before spending the day garnering petition signatures in Bellevue.

With no local abortion facility and presumably limited legal footing, the six November votes in Nebraska may be primarily symbolic; the law professor Schutz describes them as “at best a waste of time” and “a political game.” However, they do generate opportunities for local, grassroots conversations regarding abortion policies. Supporters hope that these talks will result in larger, statewide policy measures.

Viter stated, “I hope our votes in these tiny areas speak volumes to those who represent us in Lincoln.” “We wish for our voice to be heard, as we are pro-life. We want our entire state to be abortion-free.”

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