Omahans rally in support of abortion rights at Memorial Park a year ago, just after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade. View is to the west along Dodge Street. (Cindy Gonzalez/Nebraska Examiner)
LINCOLN — Two groups notified Nebraska’s highest court Friday that they will appeal a court ruling that upheld the state’s new restrictions on abortion and gender-affirming procedures for minors.
While the actual appeal has not yet been filed, Ruth Richardson of Planned Parenthood of North Central States said that “every person deserves the freedom to control their body, health, and future — and that right shouldn’t be determined by your zip code.”
A week ago, Lancaster County Judge Lori Maret rejected a challenge to the new law, ruling that Legislative Bill 574 did not violate the Nebraska Constitution’s requirement that bills cover only a single subject.
An appeal of that ruling was promised, and on Friday, Planned Parenthood of the Heartland and its medical director, Dr. Sarah Traxler, along with the ACLU of Nebraska, filed a notice of appeal with the Nebraska Supreme Court.
“We will never stop fighting for the reproductive freedom, bodily autonomy, and health of our Nebraska communities. We are doubling down on that commitment with this appeal,” Richardson, who is president and CEO of Planned Parenthood North Central States, said in a press release.
Initiative planned for 2024 election as well
The notice of appeal follows the formation of a campaign committee to put the issue of abortion rights on the 2024 ballot, a development first reported by the Examiner on Thursday.
In her ruling last week, Maret said that LB 574 contained the “general object of health care and that all parts of the bill relate to health care.”
Sandy Danek of Nebraska Right to Life said Friday that she remains confident that the judge’s ruling, and the arguments made by the Nebraska Attorney General’s Office upholding the constitutionality of the law, will stand.
“These are two issues that deal with public health and welfare of children,” Danek said.
She added that most Nebraskans are “comfortable” with a 12-week ban on abortion, though foes of abortion rights will continue fighting until “abortion is unthinkable in our state.”
In her ruling, Maret rejected arguments made by Planned Parenthood and the ACLU of Nebraska that combining two separate bills — one to enact a stricter abortion ban, and the other to block gender-affirming care — constituted illegal “logrolling.” Logrolling is the joining of two bills unlikely to pass, to attain enough votes. Maret called that argument “speculative.”
She noted that the abortion ban had been tweaked — calling for a ban after 12 weeks of gestation instead of a ban when a heartbeat is first detected, usually after eight weeks.
She also made a distinction between the single subject rule when it’s applied to bills passed by state lawmakers and initiatives proposed by citizens.
Single subject rule derailed initiative
In 2020, an initiative to legalize medical marijuana collected more than enough signatures to qualify for the ballot, but the Nebraska Supreme Court ruled that the single petition contained more than one subject — one on legalizing medical marijuana and another regulating it — thus nullifying the effort.
The ACLU of Nebraska and Powers Law of Lincoln will be handling the appeal.
Mindy Rush Chipman, ACLU of Nebraska executive director, said in a statement that she hopes the Supreme Court “honors the language in our state’s constitution that no bill shall contain more than one subject.”
During the 2023 state legislative session, a proposed “heartbeat” abortion ban failed to overcome a filibuster by one vote, blocking it from advancing.
That led to amending the ban to 12 weeks of gestation, and joining it with the bill on gender-affirming surgeries, which some observers also predicted had lacked the votes to pass on its own.
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