Nebraska Legislators Advance Bill Imposing Significant Restrictions On Abortion

A bill that would outlaw abortion if cardiac activity in an embryo can be detected—typically around the sixth week of pregnancy—has advanced in the Nebraska legislature. After a contentious debate, the ‘heartbeat’ measure was approved by the Legislature with a vote of 33 to 16. The bill specifically includes an exception for IVF treatments, ectopic pregnancies, and the removal of a fetus that has already passed away in the womb. Additionally, neither women who undergo abortions nor medical professionals who perform them are subject to criminal punishment. Instead, it would bring medical license suspension for doctors who conduct abortions in contravention of the law. The proposal, according to critics, would deny women their right to bodily autonomy, put them in danger for financial and medical problems, and force out-of-the-state medical professionals and others worried about access to abortions.

Legislators in Nebraska are divided on it; some are for it and others are against it. A supermajority of 33 votes is needed to end debate and move the bill forward in the legislature. A similar 33-16 vote was required to pass the bill, but just enough lawmakers voted to make it happen. A Republican co-sponsor of the legislation has, however, proposed an amendment that would extend the restriction to 12 weeks of pregnancy; this addition has not yet been taken into account. This adjustment, together with the reservations voiced by at least one senator who voted to advance the bill, may suggest that even some who support stricter abortion laws may object to a ban placed extremely early in pregnancy.

For cases of rape, incest, and medical emergencies that endanger the mother’s life, the bill makes exceptions. However, several Nebraska doctors have expressed worry, claiming that the bill does not account for fetal deformities. The measure’s co-sponsor, Sen. Teresa Ibach, stated during the discussion that the 12-week proposal would be a compromise and that she is concerned about the current bill.

Additionally, the bill contains specific exclusions for IVF treatments, ectopic pregnancies, and the removal of a fetus that has already passed away in the womb. It does not impose criminal sanctions on either women who get abortions or medical professionals who carry them out. Instead, it would subject medical license suspension to professional discipline for doctors who conduct abortions in contravention of the law.

Republican Governor Jim Pillen has been an outspoken supporter of the legislation and has pledged to sign it if it is passed. The bill’s opponents contend that it would deny women their right to bodily autonomy, put them at danger for financial and physical problems, and force out of the state medical professionals and others who are worried about access to abortions. Despite the fact that the measure does not mention any criminal sanctions for women who obtain abortions and the medical professionals who perform them, others regret the lack of precise wording ensuring their immunity from charges.

Legislators for and against the bill have at times accused one another of distributing false information and using aggressive language in the heated discussion over the measure. Bible scriptures are cited by the bill’s supporters, who also praise their own and their religious convictions that life begins at conception. Sen. Steve Halloran of Hastings asserted that the racist plan to “kill off the Black race” rather than women’s autonomy was the driving force for the legalization of abortion in the United States.

Opponents of the bill argue that it would take away women’s right to choose and leave them without access to medical care they need. Sen. Danielle Conrad of Lincoln referred to news reports in the past year of women and girls who were unable to get immediate abortion care following rapes or in the face of life-threatening complications because of their states’ abortion bans. “Those are real things, and you’re bringing them to Nebraska,” she said.

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