Nebraska Legislature

By Luna Stephens

Nebraska News Service

Senators debated for three hours on July 29 a bill that would ban a type of abortion but didn’t vote on it. It’s unclear if it will see future debate on the floor. 

LB814, introduced by Sen. Suzanne Geist of Lincoln, would prohibit second-trimester dismemberment abortion on live fetuses. The procedure is referred to medically as dilation and evacuation. 

The bill would also provide for criminal penalties for physicians who perform live dismemberment abortions, as well as mechanisms for civil remedies. There is an exception for emergency situations including risk of death or serious risk of substantial impairment to the mother.

“I think it’s a fitting time in our community to ask ourselves about the value of life,” Geist said.
“When you distill all the controversy that’s going on in our community down, that’s the bottom line, right? How do we value our fellow man or woman, regardless of race, regardless of health, regardless of economy.”

Sen. Megan Hunt of Omaha moved to indefinitely suspend the bill. 

She questioned the values of pro-life senators who didn’t vote for a bill earlier in the day to protect meatpacking workers and said the bill is not a priority for Nebraskans during a pandemic. 

Sen. Mike Groene of North Platte said it is an important issue for those in his district.

“If you ask them if you could save a baby’s life, would they pay more taxes, would they go to jail, would they forfeit their own life. The answer would be yes to many of them,” Groene said.

Hunt also said that the bill is just one step in Geist’s goal of a full abortion ban. 

“It’s not that the introducer or the proponents have some kind of commitment about this particular method,” she said. “It’s not about this method because the strategy, colleagues, is to go method by method until all abortion access is illegal.”

Some senators discussed the constitutionality of the bill.

Sen. Adam Morfeld of Lincoln said that similar bills have been struck down as unconstitutional in other states and the same thing would likely happen with this bill.

Sen. Andrew La Grone of Gretna said that the standard for these bills has changed with recent rulings and only bills that provide a significant obstacle to abortion are unconstitutional. He said this bill isn’t a significant obstacle, as the procedure has made up a small percentage of second-trimester abortions in the state.

Other senators described the details of the procedure and how it could cause the fetus pain. 

Sen. Carol Blood of Bellevue said several technical issues exist with the bill. She said it would give the authority to file a lawsuit against a doctor who performs this type of abortion to the woman and her parents and prosecutors but not the father or his parents.

Sen. Justin Wayne of Omaha also disagreed with the bill only allowing the father’s involvement in the process if the parents are married. He said the bill would have given his birth father no say in his own experience. 

Geist said paternity is hard to prove after an abortion, which is why the bill only gives the father authority if the parents are married.

Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh of Omaha said the bill would restrict healthcare, and senators should instead focus on expanding health care for women and children to improve pregnancy outcomes.

“We want women to carry to term,” she said. “But we don’t want to give them the resources or the supports to do that.”

Senators also said the bill would limit the autonomy of doctors to choose the right option for their patient. 

Sen. Tony Vargas of Omaha cited Dr. Jody Steinaur’s testimony at the bill’s Judiciary Committee hearing, in which she said the bill would make it a crime to serve the best interest of her patients.

Hi, my name is Luna Stephens and I am a senior journalism and advertising and public relations major at UNL. I am also currently an intern at the Omaha World-Herald and previous to that, at the Lincoln Journal Star.