State Sen. Joni Albrecht of Thurston is shown testifying to a committee hearing in the Nebraska Legislature. (Unicameral Information Office/Unicameral Update)
LINCOLN — As Nebraska state senators prepare for debate regarding abortion, one lawmaker presented a proposal Friday that aims to provide tax credits to private pregnancy help centers.
Legislative Bill 606, proposed by State Sen. Joni Albrecht of Thurston, would establish the Nebraska Pregnancy Help Act and offer tax credits to incentivize private donations to “empower undersupported women to choose a different and better future for themselves and their children.”
“Whether you are pro-life or pro-choice, we can all agree that every woman and child deserves love and support,” Albrecht told the Revenue Committee on Friday.
Albrecht is also the introducer of LB 626, a proposal to ban abortions after cardiac activity is detected. This can be around six weeks, before many women may know they are pregnant.
The Health and Human Services Committee voted Wednesday to send LB 626 to the floor for debate, and Albrecht prioritized the bill Friday. This ensures it will be considered on the floor of the Legislature.
Under LB 606, donors could cut their state tax bills by up to 50%, depending on the size of their donation to qualifying organizations. The annual tax credit available would be capped at $10 million.
Supporters of LB 606 who testified Friday primarily consisted of people from pregnancy help centers who said the bill would expand options for women and families. Opponents, by contrast, decried the organizations as “crisis pregnancy centers” for providing “dubious” or deceptive information. A number of the centers also have religious affiliations.
“Designed by the pro-life movement, almost two-thirds of the centers are reported to promote misinformation to pressure those seeking pregnancy options to carry unwanted pregnancies to term,” Nyomi Thompson of I Be Black Girl testified.
The Department of Revenue would be required to review a center’s qualifications. These include whether a center is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit with a physical space in Nebraska and providing services at no cost for the “express purpose” of helping women carry to term.
The organizations must also actively work to prevent abortion to be eligible, under LB 606.
‘A better Nebraskan’
Laura Buddenberg, recently retired executive director for Essential Pregnancy Services in Omaha, said the center is facing a growing need.
In addition to providing one-on-one prenatal care, education, counseling, clothing, life skills classes, limited pregnancy or STI testing and more, Buddenberg said centers can also provide mental health or financial support.
Care can also extend after the child is born, she said.
“Building stable families builds a much better local community, and local communities make for a better Nebraskan,” Buddenberg said.
Gaye Tillotson, executive director for the Collage Center with locations in Kearney, Grand Island and soon Columbus, said the centers can meet people at the “crossroads” of significant decisions.
Joey Ruff, director of Collage’s Grand Island location, said employees “walk alongside” women and differ from hospital settings in providing extended, one-on-one care.
“I’ve seen the difference that makes in people’s lives, particularly those who are walking through some very difficult situations, to have someone to listen to them,” Ruff said.
‘Dramatic drain’ on revenues
Joey Adler Ruane, policy director for OpenSky Policy Institute, said Albrecht’s measure amounts to “preferential” tax treatments that would have a “dramatic drain” on the state’s revenues.
“Tax credits can therefore run on autopilot with many having no formal review mechanism to ensure they’re still working toward their stated policy goals,” he said.
The bill’s fiscal note estimates a $10 million decrease in state revenues beginning with fiscal year 2025 and a $132,812 price tag in the following year to implement and operate the law.
There would be additional costs to maintain the program in future years.
Mindy Rush Chipman, interim executive director and legal director for the ACLU of Nebraska, referred to a May 2022 ACLU report alleging that many Nebraska-based pregnancy help organizations offer misleading information and may use deceptive practices to draw people in.
This could include using professional websites that look similar to those of medical centers or modeling services after those at medical facilities, Rush Chipman explained.
“With the relentless efforts to push abortion care out of reach, access to time-sensitive abortion care is as critical as it has ever been,” she added.
Thompson, whose organization seeks to uplift Black women and girls with a focus on reproductive justice, said the tax credits could also restrict the power of medical choice.
Stephanie Johnson, executive director of Nebraskans for Founders Values, testified in support and told the committee she had two unplanned pregnancies in her junior and senior years at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. The first time she went to Planned Parenthood, and the second time, she went to a private pregnancy center.
Johnson said she was “shocked” while carrying her first child to be told abortion was a primary option and said she was grateful to find more options for her second child, including support with a car seat, clothes and getting a doctor.
“I feel that given an opportunity to get a tax credit to give to organizations like this should just be a no-brainer,” Johnson said.
Erin Feichtinger, policy director for the Women’s Fund in Omaha, said every person deserves the right to determine if, when and how to start a family.
Better bills have been introduced this legislative session to support pregnant women than Albrecht’s, Feichtinger said, including proposed child tax and income tax credits, paid family medical leave, expanded SNAP benefits and more.
Carina McCormick, who has a Ph.D. in educational psychology, said offering tax credits that benefit the pregnancy help centers would be unfair to other nonprofits. She said Albrecht’s bill looks to boost a “dubious good” with a tax credit while donations to other nonprofits provide tax deductions.
“This particular bill basically says that these pregnancy help centers are more important than all of the organizations that you’re on the boards for,” McCormick said, noting many senators are involved with at least one nonprofit.
Correction: Laura Buddenberg’s role with Essential Pregnancy Services has been corrected.
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