Nebraska abortion rights amendment campaign kicks off in Omaha

OMAHA — Abortion belongs on Nebraska ballots in November 2024, leaders of reproductive, women’s and civil rights groups said Thursday in announcing a ballot initiative campaign.

Supporters of the push to amend the Nebraska state constitution to enshrine a right to an abortion gather before a campaign kickoff in northwest Omaha. (Aaron Sanderford/Nebraska Examiner)

The same coalition that protested during legislative debate this spring on the state’s new 12-week gestational age abortion ban said they are excited to start gathering signatures next week.

Ashlei Spivey of Protect Our Rights, the Nebraska group pushing for the changes, said her group wants every Nebraskan to have the “freedom to make their own health care decisions.”

“We should be able to get the care that we need in compassion and privacy without political interference,” said Spivey, also executive director of I Be Black Girl. “That is not the case.”

She said state-legalized access to reproductive health care got much more difficult in some states after the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision overturned Roe v. Wade as settled law. 

“A majority of us refused to accept that as our new normal,” she said. “We are choosing a different path.”

She said she wants Nebraska to join seven states where abortion rights reached the ballot and survived or were constitutionally protected, including recent approval in red-state Ohio.

Fetal viability vs. set number of weeks

Andi Curry Grubb of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Nebraska speaks during the campaign kickoff for a signature-gathering drive to put abortion rights on the 2024 ballot in Nebraska. (Aaron Sanderford/Nebraska Examiner)

Andi Curry Grubb, of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Nebraska, said the group worked with doctors to craft the language banning abortions after fetal viability  — rather than specifying a set number of weeks, which is the way Nebraska state law does now.

She said they chose the medical standard of viability, in part, because Nebraska’s former ban of  20 weeks after fertilization was “arbitrary,” much like the new 12-week gestational ban.

The draft language, released Wednesday, is “narrowly tailored” to “protect the rights of women and their doctors to make important decisions around abortion care,” she said. 

“We really worked to find the place where the majority of us align and that is around the idea that we were better off under Roe (v. Wade),” she said. “Our language reflects that.”

Putting the decision of whether a fetus is viable outside of the womb on medical providers is not a responsibility doctors would take lightly, said Dr. Mary Kinyoun, an Omaha OBGYN.

Gov. Jim Pillen speaks Sunday, Aug. 27, 2023, in La Vista, Neb. (Zach Wendling/Nebraska Examiner)

“When we make these decisions around periviability, it’s a decision that we take incredibly seriously, and it’s something that we are often consulting multiple doctors (on),” she said.

Advocates for additional abortion restrictions, including Nebraska Right to Life and the Nebraska Catholic Conference, say Nebraskans will not approve abortions until viability.

Advancing medical care has moved the time of viability earlier into many pregnancies, now often between 22 and 24 weeks into a pregnancy, following a woman’s last menstrual cycle.

Gov. Jim Pillen and other opponents of the potential state constitutional amendment aiming to enshrine a right to an abortion have described the draft language as “extreme.”

He and others have pledged to do what it takes to defeat the constitutional amendment. Similar measures in other states have spurred millions of dollars in outside spending.

Opposition organizing

State Sen. Joni Albrecht of Thurston speaks about her Legislative Bill 626, a bill that would ban abortion after an ultrasound detects embryonic cardiac activity. (Aaron Sanderford/Nebraska Examiner)

Pillen and many conservative state lawmakers have said they would prefer to ban abortion outright. Several said they compromised on the 12-week gestational age ban.

“That isn’t enough for the abortion industry and activists who are trying to write second- and third-trimester abortions into our constitution,” said Sandy Danek of Nebraska Right to Life.

A legislative majority fell one vote short of passing a stricter ban that would have been tied to the time when an ultrasound can detect embryonic cardiac activity, at about six weeks.

Curry Grubb said the struggle to fend off stricter abortion bans and the threat of full bans since the Dobbs decision convinced supporters to pursue a constitutional amendment.

Signatures by July

Proponents of the change will need more than 120,000 signatures from registered voters, or about 10%. They also need signatures from at least 5% in at least 38 of the state’s 93 counties.

Omaha mother Abby Waller talks about her family’s decision to end their pregnancy after she said they learned their daughter was no longer likely to survive. (Aaron Sanderford/Nebraska Examiner)

They have until July to turn them in. Organizers said they expect to use paid petition circulators, although they said they may start the effort using volunteers.

Omaha doula Jasmine Smith, who said she helps women make decisions about their reproductive health, said too many Nebraskans are having to travel out of state for care.

She said people in health care know that “these decisions belong to pregnant patients and not the government.”

Omaha mother Abby Waller, who described herself as a woman of faith, said she found out after 13 weeks that her baby girl, Ava, was not viable, that she likely had a fatal tumor.

Their family ended their pregnancy, she said, but they could not have done so under current Nebraska law. She wants other parents facing similar circumstances to have a choice.

“The truth is that there are so many reasons why someone may make the deeply personal decision to have an abortion,” she said. “We need to have the power to decide what’s right.”


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