Opponents of LB 574 fill the Nebraska State Capitol Rotunda, as they have during nearly all previous rounds of debate on the bill, on Friday, May 19, 2023, in Lincoln, Neb. (Zach Wendling/Nebraska Examiner)
LINCOLN — The Nebraska Legislature’s controversial combination of a stricter abortion ban with a bill restricting gender-affirming care for minors is the target of a lawsuit filed Tuesday in Lancaster County Court by ACLU Nebraska and Planned Parenthood of the Heartland.
The lawsuit argues that the Legislature, by combining sections of two bills involving different topics, violated the State Constitution’s restriction that bills cover only a single subject. Supporters have argued that both parts of the new law regulate health care for children.
“In general, people who have decided to end a pregnancy seek to do so as early as possible in their pregnancies,” the lawyers wrote. “But in the last three years, nearly one-third of (Planned Parenthood of the Heartland) abortion patients in Nebraska did so at or after 12 weeks of pregnancy LMP, which would have been over the gestational limit in Compound LB 574.”
Could be first of many lawsuits
The ACLU lawsuit, which the group said could be the first of many filed against Legislative Bill 574, focused first on the abortion ban because that part of the new law went into effect May 23. The portions of the law restricting gender-affirming care go into effect in October.
Interim ACLU Nebraska Executive Director Mindy Rush Chipman and local trans advocate Eli Rigatuso emphasized that women seeking abortions aren’t the only people being harmed by LB 574. The lawsuit seeks an injunction that would block the entire law from being enforced.
“The needs of trans youth are separate and distinct from the people in need of access to abortion care,” Rigatuso said. “These are two separate things.”
Supporters say topics fit together
State Sen. Kathleen Kauth of Omaha, the sponsor of LB 574, has argued that the title of her bill, “Let Them Grow,” describes how the two measures fit together. She has said the focus of her bill, even after the amendment, is on helping children grow and thrive, which she said both proposals do.
Kauth on Tuesday stood by her earlier comment.
State Sen. Ben Hansen of Blair, who sponsored the amendment that added the abortion ban at 12 weeks gestation to Kauth’s original bill on gender-affirming care, said he expected the bill to be challenged and remains confident it will survive.
“There are many reasons why these two bills should be put together,” Hansen said. “Both have to deal with the health and safety of children, both acts amend the definition of unprofessional conduct within the uniform credential act, both acts would be implemented and enforced by the DHHS’s Division of Public Health … and both involve a natural and logical sequence from pregnancy to continuing to the age of 19 with Letting Them Grow.”
Gov. Jim Pillen, through a spokesman, declined to comment on pending litigation.
“I think that everyone in this body wants to protect kids,” Kauth said on the day LB 574 passed. “We just have different ideas about what that means.”
The Nebraska Republican Party, in a tweet, criticized the ACLU for cherrypicking which bills it opposes for violating the single subject rule.
State Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh of Omaha said she warned fellow lawmakers that LB 574 would spur legal challenges.
”I stand in support of any efforts to protect parental rights and Nebraskans’ access to health care,” she said.
Andi Curry Grubb, executive director of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Nebraska, criticized state lawmakers for using “unprecedented and unlawful tactics” to combine a 12-week abortion ban with legislation she and others have described as anti-trans.
“Nebraska has been held up across the country for its Unicameral Legislature and its clear and reliable processes for passing laws,” she said. “It has helped protect our citizens from harmful legislation, but politicians who want to ban abortion stepped outside of these guardrails.”
Chelsea Souder of Nebraska Abortion Resources said at least nine women who were scheduled to have abortion care in Nebraska have worked with abortion-rights advocates to visit other states for care in the week since LB 574 became law.
Nebraska Examiner Intern Zach Wendling contributed to this report.
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