Nebraska abortion advocates launch effort to codify abortion access

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Nebraska abortion
A pro-lifer holds a rosary and sign in this file photo from Nov. 3, 2019. Nebraska pro-lifers are dismayed at a new push for an abortion ballot measure by the ACLU and Planned Parenthood in their state. (OSV News photo/Sam Lucero, The Compass)

(OSV News) — The Nebraska Catholic Conference, Nebraska Right to Life and the Nebraska Family Alliance and other pro-life groups are criticizing a newly launched effort to put abortion protections on the ballot in their state in 2024.

Seeking to replicate efforts to enshrine abortion protections in the state’s constitution as others have done, abortion advocates in Nebraska announced the effort at a Nov. 16 kickoff event.

The proposed measure would codify abortion access in the state’s constitution through fetal viability, typically understood to be 24 weeks gestation, or if a physician decided an abortion was necessary for the sake of the mother’s life or health.

In a joint statement Nov. 15, the pro-life groups called the proposed ballot measure “part of a nationally coordinated effort by the abortion industry and their allies to remove all rights from the unborn, health protections for women, and parental rights.”

Planned Parenthood’s lie

Paige Brown, spokesperson for the Nebraska Catholic Conference, the public policy arm of the bishops, said in a statement, “At 12 weeks, a baby’s major organs have formed, and his or her heart has beat over 10 million times.”

“You can find out whether the baby is a boy or girl by 12 weeks, start to see if they resemble mom or dad, and you’ll see the baby suck their thumb on an ultrasound,” Brown said. “The lie Planned Parenthood is selling that it is in a mother’s best interest to end her baby’s life at 12 weeks and beyond is appalling and goes against the science, which shows women are increasingly at risk for complications with abortions beyond the first trimester.”

To qualify for the ballot, proponents of the amendment would need to gather more than 120,000 signatures from registered voters — about 10% of them in the state, including at least 5% of registered voters in a minimum of 38 of the state’s 93 counties, according to the Nebraska Examiner.

Future ballot measures

Ohio voters Nov. 7 approved a measure that will codify abortion access in the state’s constitution. That loss for the pro-life movement marked another electoral defeat for anti-abortion ballot measures in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision. In 2022, voters in California, Kentucky, Michigan, Montana, Vermont and Kansas either rejected new limitations on abortion or expanded legal protections for it.

Besides Nebraska, abortion advocates also are seeking to hold comparable votes in 2024 in several other states including Arizona and Florida.

In a statement, the group behind the effort, a coalition called Protect Our Rights — including Planned Parenthood North Central States, the American Civil Liberties Union of Nebraska, I Be Black Girl and the Women’s Fund of Omaha — cast the effort as “informed both by medical experts and where most Nebraskans are on this issue.”

“Unlike the state officials working to totally ban abortion, we’re elevating the voices and lived experiences of Nebraskans who believe that pregnant people should be able to access needed care with compassion and privacy, free from political interference,” Ashlei Spivey, a member of Protect Our Rights’ executive committee and executive director of the group I Be Black Girl, said.

Governor Pillen denounces ‘vague and deceptive’ language

Gov. Jim Pillen, R-Neb., called the effort “flawed,” in a Nov. 15 statement, and argued it “would radically expand abortion in Nebraska, resulting in the deaths of thousands of babies in mothers’ wombs.”

“Its vague and deceptive language could throw open the doors to brutal late-term abortions, putting abortion providers in charge of judging whether, for example, a 39-week-old pre-born baby can be aborted,” he said. “That is totally out of step with the pro-life principles of the overwhelming majority of Nebraskans, whose representatives last session passed a strong and reasonable 12-week abortion ban with common sense exceptions for cases of rape, incest, and life of the mother.”

Pillen signed the bill May 22. It both bans abortion at 12 weeks of pregnancy and restricts certain types of medical or surgical gender reassignment procedures for minors who identify as transgender.

“I was proud to sign that bill into law and I will continue to fight to save as many babies’ lives as possible from abortion, including by working to defeat this initiative,” Pillen said Nov. 15. “We will continue to support moms and help them choose life and love. I look forward to standing shoulder to shoulder with pro-life leaders across Nebraska to defend life in our state.”

Kate Scanlon

Kate Scanlon is a national reporter for OSV News covering Washington.