On April 27, the day LB 626 was blocked by a filibuster, abortion-rights proponents rallied in the Capitol Rotunda, holding up signs that say, “No Bans Ever.” (Zach Wendling/Nebraska Examiner)
LINCOLN — Foes of abortion rights are hoping to resurrect a debate on the issue in the waning days of the 2023 session by pairing it with another controversial proposal.
On Monday afternoon, an abortion-related amendment to the bill that would ban gender-affirming procedures for minors was unveiled. The amendment would provide for a 12-week ban on abortion.
“This is not a compromise,” was the immediate reaction of State Sen. Megan Hunt of Omaha, a leading advocate for abortion rights.
She said that pairing together “the two most explosive bills” of the 2023 session would cause even more friction in a session overflowing with it.
Blair Sen. Ben Hansen, one of the architects of the two amended bills, said conservatives made concessions on both bills, giving “a little bit” of what opponents to the two bills had sought.
“The listening sessions did help,” Hansen said.
That referred to a series of meetings held between supporters and opponents of the bill banning gender-affirming care, Legislative Bill 574.
Two weeks ago, a bill banning abortion at about six weeks into a pregnancy — a so-called “heartbeat” abortion bill — failed to overcome a filibuster by one vote, blocking further debate on Legislative Bill 626 for the session.
Abortion debate resurrected
But like a lot of things in the Nebraska Legislature, issues can rise again from their death bed.
In the days following the defeat of LB 626, there have been multiple backroom discussions about whether a less-restrictive abortion ban — something like the 12-week ban introduced by State Sen. Merv Riepe of Ralston — might be resurrected for debate.
On Monday, those discussions led to the announcement of an amendment, called the “Preborn Child Protection Act,” to the bill restricting what gender-affirming care minors could receive.
The idea is that pairing the two measures into Legislative Bill 574, and making them less extreme, might bring enough support so that both could pass in the last 16 days of the 2023 session.
The new abortion segment of the bill includes exception language from the original LB 626 for rape, incest and life of the mother.
Current state law bans abortion after 20 weeks. Banning the procedure after six weeks — before many women would know that they are pregnant — was seen as too restrictive.
LB 574 would focus on surgeries
The original LB 574 — a contentious proposal that has prompted a session-long series of filibusters — would be tweaked to focus a ban on genital or non-genital surgeries for minors.
Instead of outlawing puberty blockers and hormone therapies for minors, the bill would authorize the chief medical officer with the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services to adopt rules and regulations around those procedures.
Additionally, the bill would clarify that mental health therapies and counseling for youths would not be affected.
Pairing the two proposals does raise concerns about whether the new LB 574 might violate the Legislature’s rule that legislation must contain a single subject. But those involved in crafting the new proposal have told the Examiner that focusing on medical procedures could help avoid a violation.
State Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh, who has led the filibusters, pledged a “long conversation” over whether the amendment to LB 574 was germane. She said it would lay the groundwork for a lawsuit.
Governor’s office, senators involved
State senators, as well as Gov. Jim Pillen — an opponent of abortion rights — were involved in crafting the compromise proposal.
Riepe, who refused to provide a vote to halt the filibuster against LB 626, said that Monday’s amendment was a decent compromise.
“It’s a long ways from perfect,” he said. “But maybe it’s something we can all live with.”
“We need to have something that’s sustainable, that’s workable and that’s reasonable,” Riepe said.
LB 574 had advanced to the final-round of consideration, but progress had been postponed after the main sponsor of the bill, Omaha Sen. Kathleen Kauth, agreed to discuss possible changes to the bill during meetings she called “listening sessions.”
The Speaker of the Legislature, Sen. John Arch of LaVista, has made the abortion issue one of his top priorities for the 2023 session. Exactly when he would schedule the amended LB 574 for debate was not immediately clear on Monday afternoon.
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