Judge dismisses LB 574 lawsuit, says abortion and gender care are health care

Governor, AG laud decision; abortion-rights advocates vow to appeal

By: - August 12, 2023 12:28 am

(Getty Images)

LINCOLN — A lawsuit trying to stop the new Nebraska law mixing a stricter abortion ban at 12 weeks of gestation with restrictions on gender-affirming care for trans minors was dismissed on Friday by a Lancaster County District Court judge.

Nebraska Attorney General Mike Hilgers speaks during a press conference. (Zach Wendling/Nebraska Examiner)

Judge Lori Maret sided with Attorney General Mike Hilgers and the state, which argued Legislative Bill 574 did not violate the Nebraska Constitution’s requirement that bills cover only a single subject because both proposals covered health care. 

“The rule … for legislative bills is that they must have ‘one general object, no matter how broad,’ and they must not include any matter that is not relevant to that general object,” Maret wrote. “Applying that standard here, the Court concludes that LB 574 has the general object of health care and that all parts of the bill relate to health care.”

Lawsuit had argued proposals unrelated

The lawsuit Maret rejected, filed in May by ACLU Nebraska and others, including Planned Parenthood, had argued LB 574 was unconstitutional because lawmakers combined two unrelated bills that spent most of the legislative session on separate tracks.

Faith leaders, state senators and advocates for abortion access join for a noon rally against abortion restrictions on Wednesday, April 12, 2023, in Lincoln, Neb. (Zach Wendling/Nebraska Examiner)

One of their core arguments was that neither bill could have passed without the other. They argued that supporters of State Sen. Kathleen Kauth’s bill on gender care and State Sen. Ben Hansen’s abortion ban needed the other proposal to pass.

Nebraska prohibits so-called “logrolling” proposals together to pass legislation. But, as Maret wrote, it was “speculative” to presume either measure in LB 574 would not have passed on its own because the abortion ban was tweaked before key votes.

LB 574 bans abortions in Nebraska after 12 weeks of gestation, with exceptions for the mother’s life. A previous proposal, Legislative Bill 626, would have banned abortions in Nebraska after an ultrasound detects embryonic cardiac activity, at about six weeks. That bill failed, falling one vote short.

Gov. Jim Pillen holds a 5-day-old newborn after signing LB 574 into law. Pillen is joined by State Sens. Joni Albrecht of Thurston, at left, and Kathleen Kauth, at center. (Zach Wendling/Nebraska Examiner)

In a statement Friday, Hilgers thanked the court for “thoughtful analysis and recognition of the Legislature’s prerogatives and processes.” Gov. Jim Pillen said he was pleased with the ruling and that LB 574 “protects kids and defends the unborn.”

Abortion rights advocates regroup

Maret’s decision left local advocates supporting abortion rights and trans rights pledging to appeal the decision to the Nebraska Supreme Court. Legal and political observers said an appeal of Maret’s decision likely faces a stiff but not impossible climb.

Maret, appointed in 2014 by then-Gov. Dave Heineman, received the lowest score of any District Court judge statewide in the Nebraska State Bar Association’s most recent Judicial Performance Evaluation, the Lincoln Journal Star reported in 2022. She earned a 46% rating from lawyers.

Abortion rights advocates have said that women have already had to make arrangements to visit other states for care. And trans advocates have said the changes in LB 574 have some people rethinking whether they should stay in Nebraska.

Interim ACLU Nebraska Executive Director Mindy Rush Chipman said ACLU Nebraska filed suit with Planned Parenthood of the Heartland against LB 574. (Aaron Sanderford/Nebraska Examiner)

Ruth Richardson, CEO of Planned Parenthood North Central States, described Friday’s ruling as “a devastating blow to Nebraskans’ fundamental right to make what should be private decisions between them and their doctors.”

“I want to be clear, this is not the end of this fight,” she said in a joint statement with the ACLU. “We will never stop fighting for the freedom, bodily autonomy and health of our communities.”

ACLU Nebraska’s Mindy Rush Chapman disagreed with the court’s conclusion, saying “Nebraskans are being seriously harmed.”

Local representatives of both the ACLU and Planned Parenthood have said this was just the first lawsuit of many likely to be filed against the new law and that more would likely come.

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Aaron Sanderford
Aaron Sanderford

Political reporter Aaron Sanderford has tackled various news roles in his 20-plus year career. He has reported on politics, crime, courts, government and business for the Omaha World-Herald and Lincoln Journal-Star. He also worked as an assignment editor and editorial writer. He was an investigative reporter at KMTV.