State Sen. Joni Albrecht prepares to speak during a news conference.
State Sen. Joni Albrecht of Thurston prepares for a news conference announcing the latest anti-abortion effort in the Nebraska Legislature on Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2023, in Lincoln. (Nebraska News Service Photo/Zach Wendling)

State Sen. Joni Albrecht of Thurston and 28 of her colleagues joined for a news conference in the Nebraska State Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 11, to detail a proposal for a near-total ban on abortions that includes exceptions for the life of the mother, rape and incest.

Albrecht’s Nebraska Heartbeat Act and Nebraska Pregnancy Help Act have not yet been introduced as of Friday, Jan. 13, but would reduce abortion access from 20 to about six weeks. Draft language for the Heartbeat Act is available here.

The second bill would offer tax credits to incentivize private donations to more than 20 pregnancy help organizations statewide.

“Every parent remembers hearing their child’s heartbeat for the very first time,” Albrecht said. “A heartbeat is a universal sign of life, and we also know that abortion stops a beating heart.”

“Heartbeat”

This means abortions would be banned as early as six weeks at the detection of what abortion opponents call a “fetal heartbeat,” the point at which sporadic electrical impulses that make rhythmic pulses — like a heartbeat — can be detected.

A bill by Albrecht in spring 2022 would have outlawed abortion under a few circumstances, including if the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade (which happened that summer). The bill received criticisms it would affect ectopic pregnancies, miscarriages or in-vitro fertilization (IVF), and Albrecht said the new bill would specify these are not impacted.

State Sen. Julie Slama of Dunbar introduced a similar bill in 2022 that stalled in committee.

Dr. Robert Plambeck, a Lincoln-based OB-GYN, joined Albrecht Wednesday and said there’s nothing in the bill that would prevent him from providing life-saving care.

“There is no question, biologically or medically, that these are two separate human beings,” Plambeck, who’s specialized for 35 years, said. “They have their own heartbeats. They have their own genetic makeup. They have their own medical needs. They are two separate individual humans, and they both deserve compassionate and professional medical care.”

Doctors who perform abortions under the bill would not face criminal actions but could have their licenses revoked. Women seeking abortions would not face penalties.

Getting the votes

All senators in attendance Wednesday were Republicans except one (State Sen. Mike McDonnell of Omaha). The remaining four Republicans in the body — State Sens. Tom Brandt of Plymouth, Myron Dorn of Adams, Ben Hansen of Blair and Speaker John Arch of La Vista — supported Albrecht’s 2022 bill, as did McDonnell.

This would net Albrecht 33 votes if those four and all in attendance gave their support, enough to become law. Still, opponents note it’s too early to start counting votes and are confident they could block the effort.

“We’ve blocked abortion bans in the past here in Nebraska, and I have no doubt that we can do it again,” State Sen. Megan Hunt of Omaha said after the news conference.

State Sen. Danielle Conrad of Lincoln said she is “always optimistic that people will bring open hearts and open minds” to debate and understand what abortion restrictions have done in sister states.

“It has hurt the practice of medicine, it has hurt citizens in their state, it has provided a chilling effect for a whole host of unintended consequences, and we can’t ignore that,” Conrad said, adding that people need to let the process play out.

Opposition vows to fight

Conrad, Hunt and State Sen. George Dungan of Lincoln detailed after the news conference what an “extreme abortion ban” would mean, especially for women of color and women who are low-income or in rural parts of the state. 

Hunt said many women may be “forced” to remain pregnant, face medical emergencies and leave the state for care.

“That’s cruel,” Hunt said. “It’s heartless, and it does not reflect Nebraska values.”

Dungan said Wednesday’s announcement is politicians getting in the way of women’s health care decisions, which encompasses abortion. He said voters told him on the campaign trail that’s exactly what they don’t want.

Efforts like Albrecht’s, Dungan continued, would hinder workforce development, retention and recruitment. It would also block goals to keep or attract more young people in the state, he said.

“I consider myself a young person still, and I can tell you that when I have conversations with my friends and other people in my area, they say that laws like this make them want to leave,” 38-year-old Dungan, the fourth youngest in the Legislature, said. “If a law like this passes, I think we’re going to see even more people leaving and less people coming in.”

Hunt introduced LR18CA and LR19CA for voters to decide whether the Nebraska Constitution should be amended to protect reproductive freedoms and prevent future restrictions. Conrad introduced LR20CA with Hunt and State Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh of Omaha for voters to decide whether the right of individual privacy should be enshrined in the Nebraska Constitution.

Preparing for a potential future

It remains to be seen how senators will approach the issue once the bills are officially introduced — or what tools senators could use to block legislation if it maintains this level of support — but Albrecht said women need to be prepared.

“Hopefully, before the bill is brought into law, [women will] understand that it is a six-week ban and that they do need to seek professional help if they feel that they are going to be having a baby,” she said.