The Nebraska legislature has passed a bill restricting both abortion and gender-transition treatment for minors, sending the measure to the governor after a contentious seven-hour session interrupted by raucous left-wing protesters.
The unicameral body voted 33-15-1 Friday to approve Legislative Bill 574, which lowers the gestational age for most abortions from 20 to 12 weeks and prohibits gender-transition surgeries for those under 19.
The abortion issue was seen as moribund after the defeat last month of a heartbeat bill, which would have banned most abortions after six weeks. But the legislature circled back with a 12-week compromise that garnered just enough votes to avoid a filibuster.
Nebraska Gov. Jim Pillen, a Republican, congratulated the legislature after the measure’s passage.
“All children deserve a chance to grow and live happy, fruitful lives,” Mr. Pillen said. “This includes pre-born boys and girls, and it includes children struggling with their gender identity. These kids deserve the opportunity to grow and explore who they are and want to be, and they can do so without making irreversible decisions that should be made when they are fully grown.”
The abortion provision was added to the Let Them Grow Act, which bans gender-transition surgical procedures for patients under 19. Limits on puberty blockers and hormones would be decided by the state’s chief medical officer, a position appointed by the governor that is currently vacant.
The bill included an emergency tag, meaning that the abortion provisions will become law the day after the legislation is signed. The gender-related limits would take effect Oct. 1. Adolescents already taking puberty blockers and hormones would be able to continue doing so.
The American Civil Liberties Union blasted the bill’s passage, saying the “consequences of this drastic act of government overreach will be devastating.”
“To be clear, we refuse to accept this as our new normal. This vote will not be the final word,” said ACLU of Nebraska interim executive director Mindy Rush Chipman. “We are actively exploring our options to address the harm of this extreme legislation, and that work will have our team’s full focus. This is not over, not by a long shot.”
The heated, sometimes emotional floor debate was paused at one point after protesters in the gallery began shouting and throwing what appeared to be paper onto the floor. Officers responded by clearing the balconies.
Protest chants and slogans such as “Shame!” could be heard on the floor from the rotunda, where hundreds of activists gathered in opposition to the legislation.
This is such childish and embarrassing behavior for a legislator. 🤦♂️ https://t.co/WpJjmUtjoi
— Caleb 🏰 (@CalebCassel) May 19, 2023
The bill contains exceptions for rape, incest and medical emergencies, but opponents argued that the measure would tie the hands of doctors and discourage businesses from locating in Nebraska.
“Extremists in the legislature decided that the mental health, the economic impact, and the private decisions between a doctor and a patient are not worth protecting, and instead enacted harmful and discriminatory legislation,” said Nebraska Democratic Party Chair Jane Kleeb in a statement.
About 89% of abortions in Nebraska are performed before 13 weeks’ gestation, according to data from the state Department of Health and Human Services.
Pro-life advocates thanked the governor and legislators for persevering after the defeat of the heartbeat bill.
“Protecting babies at 12 weeks is a significant gain for life in Nebraska,” said Adam Schwend, western regional director of Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America.
He noted that the North Carolina legislature approved a 12-week bill last week after overriding the veto of Democrat Gov. Roy Cooper.
The bill puts Nebraska somewhere in the middle when it comes to the national abortion landscape after Dobbs v. Jackson, the 2022 Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade and returning decisionmaking on the procedure to the states.
Fourteen states have on the books bans on most abortions with exceptions for the life of the mother, although some of those laws are on hold pending the outcome of litigation. Behind them are Georgia and Florida, which have approved heartbeat measures.
On the other side are the 26 states with no gestational limits or limits on abortions after viability, or when the baby can survive outside the womb, typically 22-24 weeks’ gestation. Most of the viability laws include exceptions to protect the mother’s mental and emotional health.
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