Six-week ban on abortion is about to become law

LINCOLN, Nebraska (Flatwater Free Press) — The Nebraska State Legislature is on the verge of passing a six-week ban on abortion.

Based on Flatwater Free Press interviews and calculations, it appears that the bill only needs two Republican votes to gain enough support to become law.

Twenty-nine state senators, including Omaha Democratic Senator Mike McDonnell, signed the bill as sponsors. Two more Republicans told Flatwater that they support him.

This leaves Legislative Bill 626 with two supporters of the shy 33 votes needed to overcome the filibuster.

One remaining Republican, Senator Tom Brandt of Plymouth, said in an interview that he was strongly inclined to vote for him. Another, new Senator Christy Armendaris of Omaha, has privately expressed her support, according to Senator Joni Albrecht, the Thurston Republican who introduced the bill.

Assuming all of the bill’s co-sponsors maintain their support, the votes of Brandt and Armendaris will clear the way for the bill to pass – a move that would end most legal abortions in about six weeks.

Albrecht told the Flatwater Free Press that she was pleased with the bill. But she stopped before 100% certainty.

“I won’t know until the day after eight hours (of debate), you know, they’ll just give me closure (to end filibustering) or they’ll vote on the bill,” she said. “… I don’t have a crystal ball, but I’m still sure those who signed up are still with me.”

There are still a few steps before the proposal can be put to a final vote. Sen. Megan Hunt, an Omaha Democrat who successfully ran a filibuster last year against a bill to ban abortion, said the ending is not predetermined. If supporters successfully push the bill across the finish line, she says, she is determined to do it expensively.

“I know the vote will be tight,” Hunt said. “But I know there are four or five senators who have conflicting personal feelings about abortion… I feel like the work that I have to do – that we have to do – between now and when we have the last vote is It’s about making sure that these legislators who may be on the edge really consult their conscience and they really understand that this is the most damaging bill for women in the history of our state.”

Currently, Nebraska prohibits abortions 20 weeks after fertilization. Last year, Albrecht proposed a bill that would effectively ban all abortions if the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.

This bill narrowly defeated the filibuster in a 31–15 vote.

After the session adjourned, the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, leaving decisions to restrict abortion to individual states.

This year, Albrecht is the lead sponsor of LB 626, which requires physicians to test fetal heart activity and ban abortions once activity is detected. Other differences between it and last year’s proposal include alleged exemptions for sexual assault and incest, and language intended to explicitly exclude in vitro fertilization and ectopic pregnancy. The potential consequences for doctors who break the law are professional rather than criminal.

As of December 2022, abortion was unavailable in 14 states, and courts blocked a ban in eight more, according to the Guttmacher Institute, an abortion rights organization that monitors state policy.

Pew last polled Nebraska residents on this issue in 2014 and found that 50% thought abortion should be legal in all or most cases, and 46% thought it should be illegal in all or most cases.

The Nebraska ACLU, which opposes LB 626, said a poll it conducted in November found that 59% of respondents opposed “state senators passing stricter abortion bans.” A survey of 400 Nebraska voters commissioned by the Children’s Institute of Holland in October found that a majority of respondents thought abortion should be legal in most cases.

A Susan B. Anthony poll by Pro-Life America, which supports abortion restrictions, found that a majority of Nebraska residents support “a bill that would ban abortion after a heartbeat is detected or in the event of rape, incest, or to save the mother’s life,” reads voting protocol.

Two senators who are registered as Republicans and were not co-sponsors of the bill are in leadership positions: Hansen and Speaker John Arch of La Vista. Both told the Flatwater Free Press that they supported the bill.

Two registered Republicans whose votes are less reliable, Brandt and Armendaris, also did not sign the bill as co-sponsors.

Brandt was hesitant to comment, but told the Flatwater Free Press that he was “very leaning (supporting) him.”

In an interview with radio station KWBE in August, Brandt said he was in Wichita, Kansas, a couple of weeks before voters vehemently rejected a proposed constitutional amendment that would have eliminated abortion rights.

“You just get the feeling when talking to people that they are sensible about rape, incest, the life of a mother… health care… how much a policy-making body like the legislature should interfere with what goes on between a doctor and his (or her) patient. “, he quotes the words.

Armendaris was supported by Nebraska’s Right to Life in her 2022 race and wrote on Facebook, “Now more than ever, Nebraska residents want to know where their life candidates are and I want you to know that I believe that all life is precious! I have received sole endorsement from Nebraska Right to Life and I am also very grateful to them for their work. I humbly ask pro-life LD18 citizens to vote on May 10 and I will make you proud, bless!”

She told the Flatwater Free Press that she doesn’t like being characterized as leaning toward a six-week abortion ban in one way or another. As the new senator, Armendariz said she wants to watch and hear what happens during the legislative process.

“It’s so important to this that I really want to spend all the time I can spend listening to everyone,” she said.

But Albrecht said that Armendaris told her “she’s definitely going to vote for the bill” but wants to listen to all the debate.

Even if the supporters of further restricting abortion in Nebraska lose a Republican, they have two more registered Democrats, Senators Justin Wayne of Omaha and Lynn Walz of Fremont, who can go either way.

Waltz said she fought the vote to block last year’s proposal. She eventually voted against ending piracy, but said she “cried all day”. According to her, for her it is “a matter of faith” and not an unequivocal question.

Legislative Bill No. 626 passed many hours of open hearings in the Committee on Health and Social Services on February 1. Committee chairman Senator Ben Hansen, a Blair Republican, said the committee plans to vote on the bill at an executive meeting next Wednesday.

McDonnell, a registered Democrat from Omaha and one of the 29 co-sponsors, described his position as “defending life from conception to natural death and in between.” He confirmed he is considering running for mayor of Omaha after Jean Stothert’s term ends in 2025, but said it would not affect his support for the six-week abortion ban.

“If I decide to run for mayor, if I decide not to run for mayor, that doesn’t change my position,” he said.

In 2020, she voted in favor of a bill banning abortion by dilation and evacuation. Waltz told the Flatwater Free Press that she doesn’t yet know how she will vote this year.

Wayne was labeled “sorry for not voting” for votes on last year’s bill and the 2020 bill.

Albrecht told the Flatwater Free Press that after last year’s vote, Wayne told her that he would not be able to vote on the bill during the special session on abortion, but would “close it” — that it would help the bill overcome the obstruction and therefore become law.

Wayne said he didn’t remember that conversation. There was no special meeting. Abortion is a “personal choice,” Wayne said, and it’s hard to write a bill that reflects “the seriousness of that choice.”

He is the Chairman of the Judicial Committee and said he did not have time to read bills that are pending before other committees. But he heard something about the proposal that worries him.

“If some of the issues in the bill — or some of the things I’ve heard about in the bill — are true, I probably don’t support it,” he said. “I wouldn’t support a six-week ban at all, I think some people don’t even realize they are pregnant by that time. But, again, I have not read this bill.”

Senator Carol Blood of Bellevue has made it clear that her views on abortion are mixed. However, in a text message, she suggested that she would not vote on this year’s proposal.

“I feel like we have a good balance in Nebraska that respects life and protects our medical community, and that we currently have a good middle ground with no new legislation,” she said.

It does not look like registered Democrats who can vote against party platform like McDonnell will face significant pressure from the state Democratic Party.

The party is making sure its members know how to push bills that are in line with the party’s platform, party chairman Jane Kleeb said. As they talk to Democrats in the Legislative Assembly, she says, the party is giving them “room to govern.”

“Sep. McDonnell and any of our fellow Democrats who oppose life because of their faith, we obviously respect that,” she said. “And we’re also clear that our platform, our base, and our constituents want to protect women’s reproductive rights.”

If a Democrat votes for a ban, Kleeb confirmed that the senator won’t necessarily lose the party’s support, in part because it doesn’t take sides in the primary.

C.J. King, Douglas County Democratic chairman, said he spoke with McDonnell and planned to speak with Wayne. But there is nothing punitive in any of the local party’s documents that would allow it to take action against a Democrat in the Legislative Assembly. And while the state party can deny access to resources, the local party “virtually does not fund” campaigns.

On issues such as abortion, which can evoke deeply personal and faith-based beliefs, the choice to vote yes or no can be fraught. Former Senator Mark Colterman, a registered Republican from Seward, should know: He voted to abolish the death penalty in 2015 and helped the bill override the then governor’s veto. Pete Ricketts.

“It comes down to what are your true beliefs and are you party line or not?” Colterman said. “It should not come down to the party line, because (the Legislature) should be unicameral and non-partisan. It is obvious that this is not the case.”

More than 85% of current abortions in Nebraska occur at six weeks’ gestation or later, according to data released to the state in 2021. Abortion rights advocate Hunt vowed that he would do everything in his power to stop it.

She said every bill discussed this year will have implications for the outcome of the abortion bill — every bill, she said, essentially “becomes an abortion bill.”

“Whatever happens, we can’t just let them go,” Hunt said. “… It’s not just the abortion debate that has to be bad. All debates must be bad. Every day at work should be bad. They have to be afraid to come here every day because they know it will be bad. And while they can’t expect it, I mean it’s just… I feel like it’s the only tool I have.”

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