LINCOLN, Neb. — An effort to advance a bill that would ban abortion around the sixth week of pregnancy fell one vote short of breaking a filibuster in the Nebraska Legislature on Thursday.
This means the bill is unlikely to move forward this year, despite a public call for it by Republican Gov. Jim Pillen. The Legislature adjourned immediately after the failed vote and will not meet again until Tuesday.
It was the second year in a row that an effort to restrict abortion access in the state failed. Nebraska currently prohibits abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy, a law in place since 2010.
The bill would have banned abortion once heart activity can be detected.
On Thursday, a vote to end debate so the bill could advance to a final round of debate failed 32-15. The motion needed 33 votes.
Cheers erupted outside the legislative chamber doors as the final vote was cast, as opponents of the bill waved signs and chanted: “Whose house? Our house!»
Among them was Pat Neal, 72, of Lincoln, who has been fighting for abortion rights since her miscarriage in 1973, the year the Roe v. Wade of the US Supreme Court guaranteed the right to abortion throughout the country.
“I was 11 weeks pregnant and in the middle of a divorce,” Neal said, noting that she was afraid of her husband, a Vietnam veteran who “carried some demons.”
Neal, like most of the crowd, expressed surprise at the failure of the vote.
“This gives me hope for the future,” he said. «It gives me hope that the direction we’ve been seeing, across the country, can change.»
The bill failed to get the crucial 33rd vote when Senator Merv Riepe abstained. He was one of the signatories to the bill, but raised concerns earlier this year that a six-week ban might not give women enough time to find out they were pregnant.
Riepe, a former Ralston hospital administrator, filed an amendment Thursday that would have extended the proposed ban to 12 weeks and add to the bill’s list of exceptions any fetal abnormalities deemed incompatible with life.
When he received pushback from his fellow Republicans for the amendment, Riepe took the microphone to warn his conservative colleagues that they should heed signs that abortion will drive women to vote for his removal. She offered her own election last year as an example, noting that in a four-person race, she emerged with about 45% of the vote in the May primary and was 27 points ahead of her closest contender. .
But after the Supreme Court decision in June toppled Roe, his margin of victory in the general election against that same challenger, a Democrat who made abortion rights the focus of his campaign, shrank to just under 5. percentage points.
“We must embrace the future of reproductive rights,” she said.
Nebraska’s failed bill included exceptions for cases of rape, incest and life-threatening medical emergencies and made specific exceptions for ectopic pregnancies and IVF procedures. It also allowed the removal of a fetus that has died in utero. It did not impose criminal sanctions on women who receive abortions or doctors who perform abortions. Instead, it would have subjected doctors who perform abortions in violation of the measure to professional disciplinary action, which could include the loss of their medical licenses.
Opponents seemed prepared to back Riepe’s amendment at the end of the debate, but focused mainly on concerns about the bill, saying it was ambiguous and could subject medical professionals to criminal sanctions, particularly a state law. of 1977 which makes abortion outside the accepted medical limits. proceedings a felony.
«Doctors are not going to have a proper opportunity to know what’s going on with this law,» said Senator John Cavanaugh.
The bill’s author, Thurston Sen. Joni Albrecht, rejected that argument, saying it «is the friendliest pro-life bill there is» to the medical community. But he rejected a compromise bill introduced by Omaha Sen. Jen Day that would explicitly exempt women and medical professionals from criminal penalties associated with an abortion.
“This is simply not necessary,” Albrecht said. She also rejected Riepe’s amendment, objecting to giving pregnant women 12 weeks to abort because her 6-week proposal «was a big compromise» from the total abortion ban, which had no exceptions for rape or incest, which she tabled and did not managed to get. it happened last year.
“This bill is about one thing,” he said. “You are protecting babies with beating hearts from elective abortion.”
Nebraska has the only officially nonpartisan, single-chamber legislature in the United States. But each of its 49 legislators identifies as either a Republican or a Democrat and tends to propose and vote on legislation along party lines. Republicans hold 32 seats, while Democrats hold 17 seats. Although bills can advance with a simple majority, a supermajority (33 votes) is needed to end debate and overcome a filibuster. So a single lawmaker who breaks with the party line could decide whether a bill advances or dies during the year.
The narrow divide played a role in last year’s defeat of Albrecht’s so-called trigger bill that would have automatically banned nearly all abortions in the state as soon as the US Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade, who had guaranteed abortion rights across the country for nearly five decades. That bill fell short by two votes.
In voting to advance the abortion bill earlier this year, Democratic Sen. Mike McDonnell voted with the Republicans. His reason, he said, is that he is a devout Roman Catholic who has always campaigned as an anti-abortion candidate. McDonnell voted to end the debate on Thursday, while another Democrat, Omaha Sen. Justin Wayne, abstained.
Pillen, the newly elected governor who had been eager to sign the bill into law, issued a statement asking Riepe to reconsider voting for the bill, but the statement was issued after the Legislature had already adjourned. . It’s unclear if Riepe could even file a motion to reconsider when the body reconvenes.
Jo Giles, executive director of the Omaha Women’s Fund, broke down in tears outside the legislative chamber after the vote.
«Wow!» she exclaimed. “This was unexpected, but we are very happy to have this victory. We have fought so hard. This bill is not what the majority of women in this state wanted.”