Abortion rights group says fight ‘far from over’ involving new restrictions in Nebraska

Chief sponsor of ‘heartbeat’ bill says she’s ready to ‘get it passed’

By: - February 21, 2023 5:00 am

State Sen. Danielle Conrad (center) speaks at a rally of abortion rights earlier this year in the State Capitol Rotunda. Nebraskans, she said, don’t want additional restrictions on abortion. (Aaron Sanderford/Nebraska Examiner)

LINCOLN — Despite recent reporting that abortion opponents are two votes short of the super-majority needed to pass a so-called “heartbeat” bill in the Nebraska Legislature, a Planned Parenthood official says the fight is far from over.

“We know it will be close, but we have successfully blocked four abortion bans in the past year and we can do it again,” said Andi Curry Grubb, executive director of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Nebraska.

Curry Grubb, in a press release, said that the vote will come down to a “razor thin margin” but that supporters of abortion rights feel the “dangerous” impacts of a near total abortion ban will cause the proposal to fall short.

Andi Curry Grubb
Andi Curry Grubb, executive director of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Nebraska. (Courtesy of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Nebrask

Twenty-nine senators have signed on as sponsors of the “Nebraska Heartbeat Act,” Legislative Bill 626. But 33 votes are needed in the 49-member Legislature to overcome an expected filibuster and pass the measure.

Albrecht confident

The 33-vote threshold has eluded abortion opponents in recent months.

But State Sen. Joni Albrecht of Thurston, the main sponsor of the bill, said Monday that two other senators, John Arch of Papillion and Ben Hansen of Blair, are in support, as well — leaving the bill two short of 33. Albrecht said two other opponents of abortion rights, Sens. Tom Brandt of Plymouth and Christy Armendariz of Omaha, have told her they want to listen to the floor debate before casting their votes.

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

Albrecht expressed confidence that Armendariz will support LB 626 in the end. She added that the bill was amended to include exceptions in the case of rape and incest because of concerns raised by Brandt.

“I’m ready to get it passed,” Albrecht said. “(But) I’m not confident until Tom Brandt says he’s with me.”

The 2022 elections, she said, “made a difference” in the vote count, as opposed to the past.

LB 626 would ban an abortion if a doctor can detect a heartbeat from a developing embryo, typically after six weeks. Exceptions would be allowed in the event of a medical emergency involving the mother, or in a case of rape or incest.

Opponents of LB 626 have labeled it a “near total ban” on abortions because many women don’t know they’re pregnant until after six weeks. Currently, Nebraska law bans abortions after 20 weeks of gestation.

The Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee is expected to vote out the bill this week for debate by the full Legislature — a debate likely to extend at least eight hours.

But the magic number to pass any controversial bill in the Legislature is 33 votes — a super majority to overcome a filibuster.

Last year, a bill that would have triggered an abortion ban in Nebraska in the event the U.S. Supreme Court tossed out the constitutional right to abortion granted in Roe v. Wade fell short by two votes of halting a filibuster.

And, last summer, then-Gov. Pete Ricketts abandoned plans to call a special session of the State Legislature to restrict abortion, saying he could not find agreement among 33 senators to do it.

A recent vote count conducted by the Flatwater Free Press also indicated that LB 626 had 31 supporters, two short of the required 33.

Others viewed as possible supporters

Besides Brandt and Armendariz, Fremont Sen. Lynne Walz and Omaha Sen. Justin Wayne, two Democrats in the officially nonpartisan Legislature, are viewed as possible supporters. Only one Democrat signed on as a cosponsor of LB 626, Omaha Sen. Mike McDonnell.

The only abortion-related vote taken so far during the 2023 session was a Jan. 26 vote to refer the bill to the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee — which traditionally deals with abortion issues — rather than the Health and Human Services Committee, as had been decided by the Legislature’s Reference Committee.

The vote was 32-14 to reject the re-referencing attempt by Omaha Sen. Megan Hunt, an abortion rights advocate — one vote short of 33. However, one opponent of abortion, Norfolk Sen. Robert Dover, was absent that day.

The Planned Parenthood of Advocates of Nebraska point out that a December poll by the ACLU of Nebraska found that 59% of respondents opposed “more restrictive abortion bans in Nebraska,” compared to 36% of respondents who supported it.

“We are standing side by side with Nebraskans to keep abortion safe and legal in Nebraska,” Curry Grubb said.

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Paul Hammel
Paul Hammel

Senior Reporter Paul Hammel has covered the Nebraska state government and the state for decades. Previously with the Omaha World-Herald, Lincoln Journal Star and Omaha Sun, he is a member of the Omaha Press Club's Hall of Fame. He grows hops, brews homemade beer, plays bass guitar and basically loves traveling and writing about the state. A native of Ralston, Nebraska, he is vice president of the John G. Neihardt Foundation.