New abortion petition looks to enshrine bans in Nebraska constitution

March 19, 2024, 11 a.m. ·

Hundreds March down K Street Toward the University of Nebraska Union Building For the 50th Annual Nebraska Walk For Life.jpeg
Hundreds march down K Street toward the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Union as part of the 50th Annual Nebraska Walk for Life. (Photo by William Padmore, Nebraska Public Media News)

Another abortion-related ballot measure has been filed with Nebraska's Secretary of State.

The "Protect Women and Children Constitutional Amendment" petition aims to ban abortions starting in the second trimester – typically around 12 weeks of pregnancy – in the Nebraska constitution. It makes exceptions for medical emergencies and sexual assault or incest.

The sponsor listed on the petition's documents did not answer multiple phone calls, texts and emails from Nebraska Public Media.

A screenshot of a document shows the language of the abortion petition filed with the Secretary of State's office.
(Petition documents from the Nebraska Secretary of State's office)

The organizers behind the petition will have until July 3 to collect the signatures they need to put the question to voters on the November ballot. They'll need just under 123,000 signatures from 10% of Nebraska's voters, along with signatures from 5% of voters in at least 38 of Nebraska's 93 counties.

Jackie Ourada, a spokesperson with the Secretary of State’s office, said language for the abortion ban petition has not yet been finalized. The group will not be able to collect signatures until they’ve submitted the final language to the Secretary of State, along with sample petition copies.

Petition to expand abortion rights

Meanwhile, a coalition of abortion rights groups has said it’s “on track” in gathering signatures to expand abortion access in Nebraska through their own ballot measure.

The Protect our Rights campaign is aiming to enshrine abortion rights until fetal viability, usually around 24 weeks, as a constitutional right. The amendment would also make exceptions for the life and health of the pregnant patient.

A screenshot of a document shows the petition language to provide Nebraskans the right to an abortion until fetal viability.
If this petition collects enough signatures, Nebraskans could vote on abortion rights in the 2024 elections. (Secretary of State files)

Elizabeth Constance is advising the Protect our Rights campaign as a medical doctor with specialties in reproductive endocrinology and infertility. Constance said the new petition to codify the state’s abortion ban is “concerningly broad.”

“There’s a complete lack of details,” she said. “The references to medical emergencies for exceptions is vague, and it doesn’t say a specific gestational age or specific point in pregnancy that has a medical meaning.”

Constance said the new petition doesn’t make her nervous about Protect our Right’s ability to get its pro-abortion rights ballot measure before voters in November.

“The campaign is strong and has great momentum,” Constance said. “I think this is likely intended to confuse voters and petition signers, but at the end of the day we’ll see that Nebraskans are smart enough to know the difference.”

Praise from other groups

Several anti-abortion rights groups active in Nebraska are supporting the new ballot measure, which Adam Schwend with Susan. B Anthony Pro-Life America said in a statement “confirms what already exists in statute.”

Right now, abortions in Nebraska are banned past 12 weeks in most cases, after May 2023 legislation tightened the state’s regulations from 20 weeks.

In a statement, Nebraska Family Alliance said the ballot initiative gives voters a “second, better choice on abortion.”

Sandy Danek, executive director at Nebraska Right to Life, said in a statement the Protect our Rights campaign was “unnecessary” and “extreme” since the majority of abortions in Nebraska occur in the first trimester.

Nebraska’s Department of Health and Human Services reported about 89% of abortions happened in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy in 2022.