‘Trigger’ abortion bill fails by two votes to overcome eight-hour filibuster

Opponents say Nebraska’s LB 933 was poorly drafted, could ‘criminalize’ physicians

By: - April 6, 2022 9:16 pm
Jen Day

State Sen. Jen Day of Gretna spoke at a noon-time rally of opponents of a ‘trigger’ abortion bill on Wednesday. (Paul Hammel/Nebraska Examiner)

LINCOLN — After an eight-hour debate Wednesday, the Nebraska Legislature was unable to overcome a filibuster against a bill that would ban abortions in Nebraska if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns the landmark Roe v. Wade decision.

The vote to invoke cloture to allow Legislative Bill 933 to advance from first-round debate failed by two votes, 31-15, likely killing the bill’s chances in 2022. Overcoming a filibuster requires 33 votes.  

The bill was introduced by State Sens. Joni Albrecht and Mike Flood and had 23 cosponsors.

Sen. Joni Albrecht
State Sen. Joni Albrecht of Thurston (Courtesy of Unicameral Information Office)

Pull motion

A rarely used “pull motion” was necessary to bring the bill up for debate by the full Legislature after votes were lacking to advance the bill from the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee.

Albrecht said that the measure, called “The Human Life Protection Act,” was necessary for Nebraska to be ready if the Supreme Court strikes down a woman’s right to abortion.

‘Trigger’ law

Thirteen other states, including neighboring Missouri and South Dakota, have enacted so-called “trigger” laws that would make abortion illegal upon a Supreme Court ruling.

“We’re not going to kill babies in Nebraska anymore. We’re going to take care of them,” Albrecht said. “No one should have the right to kill an unborn child that doesn’t have a voice.”

State Sen. Megan Hunt of Omaha
State Sen. Megan Hunt of Omaha (Courtesy of Unicameral Information Office)

Opponents of LB 933, led by Omaha Sen. Megan Hunt, called the measure an affront to women’s rights and one that was so poorly drafted that it could outlaw some contraceptives and lead to felony charges against doctors.

‘Deeply flawed’

“This is deeply flawed legislation,” said Lincoln Sen. Adam Morfeld.

Speaking at a noon-hour rally by opponents of LB 933, Dr. Maureen Boyle, an obstetrics and gynecology physician from Omaha, said the proposal could lead to felony charges for doctors who have to perform an abortion to save the life of a mother.

Faces a felony

“I never, ever want to hesitate to treat a patient because of a risk of a felony,” said Boyle, whose parents were former Omaha Mayor Mike Boyle and Anne Boyle, a longtime member of the Nebraska Public Service Commission.

Maureen Boyle said she quickly amassed 150 signatures from doctors to an online petition opposing the bill. The Nebraska Medical Association and Nebraska Pharmacists Association also opposed the bill.

But Albrecht said all 13 states that have passed trigger bills so far have made it a felony to perform an abortion. She and other supporters said a physician would be charged only they intentionally and knowingly violated the abortion ban. 

Albrecht also said she would work with Omaha Sen. Bob Hilkemann, a retired physician, to consider his amendment, which would remove the “felony” language and require that a violation be reported to the state medical board for disciplinary action.

State Sen. John Lowe of Kearney (Courtesy of Unicameral Information Office)

‘Chicken Little’

Kearney Sen. John Lowe called the threat of criminalizing physicians a “Chicken Little” argument.

The eight-hour debate was often emotional and turned personal at times. Senators told stories about their families, their religious faith, troubled pregnancies and their attempts to adopt.

 Voices rose when opponents said that a total ban on abortion could force a 12-year-old victim of incest or a rape victim to carry a baby to term.

“What is wrong with your heart?” said Lincoln Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks. 

Two doctors do most abortions

Flood pointed out that only four doctors performed abortions in Nebraska during 2021, with two doctors performing four procedures, and two others performing 2,374.

The senator said Nebraska is a “pro-life state.” He said that LB 933 would just be the next step following a 2011 bill that he sponsored that banned abortions past the 20th week of pregnancy, unless a woman’s life was in danger.

Hunt said the LB 933 redefines life as beginning at “fertilization.” If that’s the case, she said, it would make it a felony to dispose of fertilized embryos and would ban the use of an IUD, a contraceptive device placed in a woman’s uterus that blocks pregnancy.

 Opponents of LB 933 also disputed that Nebraska was a pro-life state, pointing out that a poll of 500 registered voters, released Wednesday by the ACLU of Nebraska, indicated that 55% opposed such a ban, with only 40% supporting it.

Sen. wishart
State Sen. Anna Wishart of Lincoln (Courtesy of Unicameral Information Office)

‘Sledge hammer’

Opponents of the bill, dressed in pink and carrying signs reading “Stop the Bans” and “Keep Abortion Safe & Legal,” filled the Capitol Rotunda during the noontime rally.

“This bill takes a sledge hammer to our bodily autonomy,” said Lincoln Sen. Anna Wishart.

Omaha Sen. John Cavanaugh said passing a law that would be triggered by a Supreme Court ruling was a bad idea. What happens if the court doesn’t strike down Roe v. Wade, or if it’s just a partial repeal, Cavanaugh asked.

But Flood said if the Nebraska Legislature doesn’t act and Roe v. Wade is struck down this summer, a special session might be necessary.

The Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit that tracks abortion laws, predicted in a report last year that 26 states would ban abortion if Roe v. Wade is struck down. Those states included Nebraska and all of its surrounding states except Colorado.

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Paul Hammel
Paul Hammel

Senior Reporter Paul Hammel has covered the Nebraska Legislature and Nebraska state government for decades. He started his career reporting for the Omaha Sun and was named editor of the Papillion Times in 1982. He later worked as a sports enterprise reporter at the Lincoln Journal-Star. He joined the Omaha World-Herald in 1990, working as a legislative reporter, then roving state reporter and finally Lincoln bureau chief. Paul has won awards from organizations including Great Plains Journalism, the Associated Press and Suburban Newspapers of America. A native of Ralston, Nebraska, he is vice president of the John G. Neihardt Foundation and secretary of the Nebraska Hop Growers.

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