By Kaitlynn Johnson, Sarah Merza and Grace Pagone
Anti-abortion advocates are looking forward to the 2022 legislative session as a way to further restrict abortions in Nebraska in the wake of national developments that could affect the right to legal abortions.
This follows after the Supreme Court case, United States vs. Texas, regarding the Texas Heartbeat Act.
Texas Senate Bill 8
Texas Senate Bill 8 allows private citizens to sue anyone who performs or assists in an abortion after cardiac activity is detected, unless the mother’s life is in danger. Cardiac activity is typically detected around six weeks, before many women know they are pregnant.
Marion Miner, associate director of pro-life and family policy at the Nebraska Catholic Conference, said he will be lobbying lawmakers to get policies passed for the protection of human life and public welfare.
“The effectiveness of SB 8 approach has short-term gotten people fired up,” Miner said. “They’ve seen its halted practice of abortion in Texas. Who knows how many lives that have been saved already.”
Miner said expectations are high in Nebraska, and he predicts the Legislature is going to try to pass laws whether it is the Texas approach or something different.
“There has certainly been a lot of excitement generated by that effort on both sides of the issue,” Miner said. “Some people have seen this as a creative way to protect life in a system that has been difficult to enact meaningful protection. Some have seen it as dangerous.”
Miner said whether the Legislature wants to try something similar to Texas is contingent on what the Supreme Court does with SB 8 and Dobbs vs. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a pending Supreme Court case regarding the constitutionality of a 2018 Mississippi state law banning abortion operations after 15 weeks of pregnancy.
“Should everything go right from our perspective, we will be able to provide protection for the unborn, and that comes with enhanced obligation to protect innocent lives and difficult circumstances,” Miner said.
An Experience of Getting an Abortion
Nebraska lawmakers enacted a bill in 2020 that banned dilation and evacuation abortion, a method used approximately 95% of the time in the second trimester, according to the Guttmacher Institute.
Stephanie Dworak, 31, Omaha, traveled to Colorado with her husband, Dave Dworak, for an abortion procedure on Sept. 29. The abortion was for medical reasons, Stephanie Dworak said. Stephanie and Dave Dworak have a 3-year-old daughter. They had planned on having another child, she said.
“The abortion that I had was an extremely wanted and very planned pregnancy,” Stephanie Dworak said. “But unfortunately, the plan did not go how we wanted it to, and I ended up having an abortion for medical reasons. I found out that our baby had several defects that just would have made him miserable had he been born alive.”
Twelve weeks into the pregnancy, Dworak and her husband opted to have an ultrasound. They discovered the fetus had a giant omphalocele, Stephanie Dworak said. The fetus’ liver and bowel were in a sack outside of his abdomen, which affected the placement and development of his heart and his lungs, she said.
“We would have been bringing a child into the world for a life of suffering,” Stephanie Dworak said. “And with already having a child you know, we were not willing to compromise our living child's financial future to bring a life into the world that would have had nothing but suffering.”
Stephanie and Dave Dworak saw multiple specialists at Methodist Women's Center and a specialist at Boys Town pediatric hospital to discuss the severity of the defect. The pregnancy was 19 weeks along when they learned about the severity of the giant omphalocele and they decided not to continue the pregnancy, Stephanie Dworak said.
“I called my doctor who was wonderful,” Stephanie Dworak said. “He was as helpful as he possibly could be. But that's kind of where it stops because the laws don't allow for our doctor to assist in that.”
Their doctor provided them a list of clinics, but it was up to the couple to do research and make the appointment, Stephanie Dworak said. Once the appointment was made, her doctor was able to fax her medical records to the clinic.
Nebraska has two clinics that will perform an abortion. The clinic in Omaha does not perform abortions after 13 weeks, Stephanie Dworak said. The Bellevue clinic performs abortions up to 22 weeks, she said. When she called the clinic, she was told the doctor who performs abortions is only there every three weeks. By the time he would be back, she would be too far along for him to perform the procedure according to Nebraska law.
The Iowa City clinic determined her pregnancy was a week too far along for the abortion. She called a clinic in Minneapolis but was told there was no availability for three weeks, when she would be too far along for the procedure, she said. They ended up going to a clinic in Boulder, Colorado, where doctors perform abortions well into the third trimester for situations like hers, Stephanie Dworak said.
“I'm trying to talk about it because unfortunately, access to abortion is in crisis right now,” Stephanie Dworak said. “And so it's important to share my story and let people know that we need to be opening up access. We can't restrict it further because what we had to go through to get it done took so much privilege that I cannot even fathom how other people less fortunate than us can do it.”
Dworak was born and raised in Omaha. However, she said that if abortion were to be further restricted in Nebraska, her family would most likely move out of the state.
“We will not stay in this state if it becomes more restricted because I can't endanger my daughter like that,” Stephanie Dworak said. “It's very possible that this is a healthcare service she will need some day, and I can't risk her struggling. The whole point of getting the abortion was to ensure her future.”
Services and Support
Across the state, groups on different sides of the issue held and plan to hold public demonstrations to voice their opinions. The Omaha Women’s Day March took place at Omaha City Hall. The Omaha Women’s Day March and Rally for Reproductive Rights took place at Omaha City Hall on Oct. 2. The Nebraska Walk for Life is scheduled for Jan. 29, 2022, in Lincoln.
On the federal level, the Title X Family Planning Program provides reproductive and birth control care to low income families or those who are uninsured.
On Oct. 4, President Joe Biden reversed former President Donald Trump’s gag order for health care clinics receiving funding from Title X to refer abortion services to women. During his administration, Trump established a gag order which prevented abortion referrals to occur. The reversal went into effect Nov. 8.
Nebraska Family Planning, a family planning and sexual and reproductive health service provider with 14 clinics across the state, received a three-year Title X grant in 2019.
Marissa Galardi, the women’s healthcare strategist at Nebraska Family Planning, said Title X is the only federal grant program dedicated solely to providing individuals with comprehensive family planning and related preventive health services.
“Through the grant, we distribute funding to clinics across Nebraska who provide reproductive and sexual healthcare services,” Galardi said.
Gov. Pete Ricketts released a statement to the media regarding the administration’s decision.
“Pres. Biden has once again moved forward with a pro-abortion policy that destroys innocent pre-born babies,” Ricketts said in a media release. “Nebraska is a pro-life state, which champions and respects the basic human right to life. We urge the Biden Administration to discontinue any and all federal government support of abortion.”
Galardi said many factors impact health care access in Nebraska.
“Barriers that can impact the delivery of the services our agencies offer: language barriers, food insecurity, housing insecurity, financial strain, lack of transportation, the physical environment, intimate partner violence, etc,” Galardi said. “We work to provide opportunities for our agencies to provide quality care, while also promoting education and reducing barriers to health care broadly across the state.”
In Nebraska, 59.5% of abortions in 2020 were conducted between seven and 21 weeks of gestation. If the Nebraska Legislature passed a law similar to Texas SB 8, it would ban the majority of abortions performed in Nebraska in 2020.
“As abortion becomes rarer, the responsibility and need to help women raise their child and be in a good place is going to be enhanced,” Miner said. “That is something we are very serious about.”
According to Rose Holz, associate director of the Women’s and Gender Studies program at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, examining the history of abortion in the United States can show the possible restrictions in the future.
“We can get clues of what has happened and what could possibly happen,” Holz said.
Despite the 1973 case of Roe v. Wade making abortion legal in the United States, Holz said that each state is able to create its own restrictions on abortion access. This includes establishing different waiting periods, requiring clinics to have certain infrastructures, and like Texas, having enforcement take place by private citizens.
As of Jan. 1, 2021, restrictions in Nebraska include the prohibition of telemedicine to facilitate abortions and a 24-hour delay after a mandatory counseling session.
“I think one thing we can be certain is if Roe is overturned, abortion will not stop,” Holz said.
According to Holz, the Supreme Court takes action when it's time to settle differences in policy among the states.
“When it comes to ‘why do some states have more rights than others’ that's when the Supreme Court comes in,” Holz said. “The same happened with same-sex marriage and interracial marriage.”
Miner said groups like the Nebraska Catholic Conference are studying, reading and researching news elsewhere to keep a good grasp on what is happening.
“We are talking about it now and will be ready for session before it begins,” Miner said.
The 107th Nebraska Legislative Session begins Jan. 5, 2022, and is scheduled to end April 20, 2022.