Group looks to enshrine abortion access until fetal viability in Nebraska
By Elizabeth Rembert , Food, Energy and Agriculture Reporter Nebraska Public Media, Harvest Public Media
Nov. 15, 2023, 7 a.m. ·
An abortion rights group is petitioning to put the topic in front of Nebraska voters during the 2024 election.
Documents filed with the Secretary of State’s office show the new petition aims to amend the state constitution to provide the right to an abortion until fetal viability – usually 23 to 24 weeks of pregnancy – and when needed to “protect the life or health of the pregnant patient.”
The effort, spearheaded by the Protect our Rights campaign, goes further than Nebraska’s previous 20-week restriction, which lawmakers tightened to 12 weeks in the latest legislative session.
Doctors, activists, community members and attorneys worked together to land on the petition's language, according to Ashlei Spivey, who leads the Omaha-based reproductive rights group I Be Black Girl and is involved with the Protect our Rights campaign. She said the group also conducted "numerous" rounds of polling.
"We understand that Nebraskans hold different feelings about abortion, and we wanted to focus on where we most aligned," Spivey said. "Our language reflects that."
She called the state's previous 20-week ban "arbitrary."
"That number is not supported by science or medical reason," Spivey said. "Our focus here was on the consensus and listening to medical experts about what needed to be in this type of policy."
Sandy Danek with Nebraska Right to Life said allowing abortions until fetal viability pushes too far past the state's current 12-week law and the exception to provide abortion "when needed to protect the life or health of the pregnant patient" could allow even later procedures.
"I don't think this is a place that Nebraskans will want to be," Danek said. "The 12-week ban seems to be a reasonable place for elected officials and Nebraska as a whole."
The petition’s language echoes the constitutional amendment Ohio voters recently passed, which guarantees abortion access until fetal viability in that state.
Spivey said the petition's language is based on Nebraskan attitudes and is not copied from Ohio, but that the group feels encouraged by abortion rights victories in Ohio and Kansas, both red states like Nebraska.
"It just shows that time and time again when you take abortion to the ballot, voters are electing to protect their rights," she said. "We feel Nebraska will be no different."
Danek pointed out that in Ohio, voters undid a 2019 state law that banned most abortions after around six weeks -- typically when doctors detect cardiac activity -- and made no exceptions for rape and incest.
"We feel that the 12-week law currently on the books in Nebraska is a more reasonable compromise," she said.
Nebraska Right to Life is collaborating with other anti-abortion rights groups Nebraska Catholic Conference, Nebraska Family Alliance and Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America to oppose the petition effort, according to Danek.
The Protect our Rights campaign will need signatures from 10% of Nebraska’s registered voters to get it onto the 2024 ballot.
As of November 1, that means just under 123,000 signatures. They’ll also need to collect signatures from 5% of registered voters in 38 of Nebraska’s 93 counties. Spivey said the effort will officially launch Thursday, Nov. 16 and that the group could start collecting signatures next week.