Bill to ban abortion procedure stalls

A bill that would ban a specific abortion method in Nebraska stalled during general file debate July 29.

Sen. Suzanne Geist
Sen. Suzanne Geist

LB814, introduced by Lincoln Sen. Suzanne Geist, would ban “dismemberment” abortion except in emergency situations. The bill defines a dismemberment abortion as a procedure in which a person purposely dismembers and extracts a living fetus from the uterus using clamps, forceps or similar instruments.

The bill would not apply to an abortion in which suction is used to dismember a fetus, or removal of a fetus that already is dead.

In light of the coronavirus pandemic and social unrest, Geist said that now is a fitting time to have a conversation about the value of human life.

“When you distill all the controversy that’s happening in our community down, that’s the bottom line,” she said. “How do we value our fellow man or woman, regardless of race, health or economy?”

LB814 would allow for professional injunctions and civil action against any abortion provider found to be in violation of the bill’s provisions.

The intentional and knowing performance of the procedure—unless performed due to a medical emergency—would be a Class IV felony, punishable by up to two years imprisonment with 12 months post-release supervision, a $10,000 fine or both.

Omaha Sen. Megan Hunt filed a motion to indefinitely postpone the bill, which would end consideration of it for this session. She said that when someone decides to end a pregnancy, their care should be safe, affordable and free from punishment or judgment.

“However we feel about abortion, about pregnancy, we should all agree that a woman’s health, not politics, should guide important medical decisions at every point in a pregnancy,” Hunt said.

Because LB814 was pulled from the Judiciary Committee July 22, Omaha Sen. Sara Howard said, it did not go through the traditional vetting process to correct drafting errors or legally questionable provisions. As a result, she said, doctors could be sent to jail under the bill for performing a procedure that is recommended by their professional practice group.

“What’s concerning about this piece of legislation in particular is that it means that doctors will be forced—by ill-advised, unscientifically motivated policy—to provide lesser care to patients,” Howard said. “Ultimately, in Nebraska we want our patients to have the highest quality of care with the best medical judgment, unhindered by policies that don’t support the patient.”

Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh of Omaha supported Hunt’s motion, saying the Legislature consistently has failed to provide services to women and families.

“We want women to carry to term but we don’t want to give them the resources or the supports to do that,” she said. “I appreciate that this [bill] is important to Sen. Geist, but this doesn’t solve anything for children in this state.”

Opposing the motion and speaking in support of LB814 was Peru Sen. Julie Slama. Discussion of dismemberment abortion is bound to make people uncomfortable, she said, but is necessary to understand what would be prohibited by the bill.

“The dismemberment of a living baby is not a health care decision,” Slama said. “It is a [matter] of basic human decency.”

Sen. Mike Groene of North Platte said that prohibiting abortion is one of the most important issues to the majority of his constituents. If given the choice between saving an unborn baby’s life or their own, he said, many would choose the baby.

“The real question is why does our society make us even contemplate that choice?” Groene said.

After three hours of debate, lawmakers moved to the next item on the agenda without taking any votes on LB814. Per a practice implemented by Speaker Jim Scheer, the sponsor of a bill that is facing a potential filibuster must demonstrate sufficient support for a cloture motion before the measure will be scheduled for additional debate.

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