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Abortion rights supporters block ‘trigger’ law in Nebraska


LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Abortion-rights supporters have won a surprising victory in Nebraska by derailing a bill that would have automatically banned abortion if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns its 1973 Roe v. Wade who legalized the procedure nationwide.

Wednesday’s vote frustrated opponents of abortion rights, who typically win fights over the issue in the Conservative Legislature. More than a dozen other conservative states have already passed similar measures, but abortion-rights supporters in Nebraska successfully blocked it using a single-chamber legislature filibuster.

Supporters of the bill lost two votes of the 33 they needed to end the filibuster and force a vote. The 31-15 vote left the proposal essentially dead for the rest of the year, even though a majority of lawmakers backed it. Voting largely took place along party lines in the ostensibly nonpartisan legislature.

In 2010, Nebraska became the first state to ban abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy, and the state banned a second-trimester abortion procedure in 2020 despite vocal protests from abortion rights supporters.

The latest bill, however, faced a tougher road due to the current makeup of the Legislature, where Republicans are one seat away from the supermajority needed to overcome filibusters. A Republican and a Democrat each crossed party lines, nullifying the other’s vote. A Republican and two Democrats were absent.

Proponents have argued that the majority of Nebraska voters oppose abortion, based on who the state consistently elects.

“We envision a Nebraska where every life is celebrated and protected,” said Sen. Joni Albrecht, sponsor of the bill.

Nebraska State Senator Megan Hunt of Omaha is seen in the Legislative Chamber in Lincoln, Neb., Friday, March 1, 2019.

AP Photo/File Nati Harnik

Opponents assailed it as an intrusion on women’s autonomy and vowed not to budge in their opposition.

“State by state, legislatures are taking a hammer for women’s freedom,” said state Sen. Anna Wishart of Lincoln.

The debate has at times turned personal, with proponents of abortion rights lashing out at supporters of the bill for backing it even though it does not include exceptions for rape or incest.

“The supporters of this bill are no longer ashamed,” said State Senator Megan Hunt of Omaha, adding that she was offended as a mother and survivor of sexual assault. “I’ll cherish the time I’ve worked here forever, but when I’m fixed term (out of the office), I’ll probably never talk to most of you again.”

The debate preceded an expected June ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which involves a Mississippi law that bans abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy.

Both sides told the court that there was no middle ground in the case. In anticipation of the ruling, 13 states have passed so-called trigger laws to automatically ban abortions if the court sides with abortion opponents. Ohio and Oklahoma approved their trigger laws last year.

On Thursday, Michigan Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer filed a lawsuit asking a court to recognize the right to have an abortion under the state constitution and overturn the state’s ban on old of 176, which could resume if Roe v. Wade’s decision is overturned.

The Roe v. Wade allows states to regulate but not ban abortions up to the point of fetal viability, which is around the 24th week of pregnancy. The judges upheld the decision in 1992.

Nebraska’s vote drew promises of political retaliation against some elected officials. Jim Pillen, a leading Republican gubernatorial candidate, said Thursday he would work to unseat some lawmakers who are up for re-election and who voted to block the bill.

“Last night the legislature let the people of Nebraska down by voting to keep abortion legal,” Pillen said. “Abortion is murder, and as a pro-life state, the majority of Nebraskanians realize we need to ban it.”

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