Initiative to put abortion protections on November ballot ‘on track’, organizer says

7 de Marzo de 2024 a las 05:00 ·

A woman sits at a table with a laptop and a sign that reads "Protect abortion. Sign the petition here."
Allie Berry, a project manager with the Protect Our Rights campaign, collects signatures in Omaha on March 6, 2024. (Photo by Elizabeth Rembert, Nebraska Public Media News)

The Protect Our Rights campaign, made up of a coalition of abortion rights groups, is collecting signatures at coffee shops, concerts and towns throughout Nebraska to put protection for abortion access on the 2024 ballot.

The ballot language they’ve proposed would ask voters if they want to guarantee abortion access until fetal viability – usually around 24 weeks of pregnancy – and when needed to “protect the life or health of the pregnant patient” in the state’s constitution.

Right now, abortions in Nebraska are banned past 12 weeks in most cases, after legislation passed in May 2023 tightened the state’s regulations from 20 weeks. There are exceptions for rape, incest and the life 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)

As of now, the campaign will need just under 123,000 signatures (10% of Nebraska’s registered voters) and signatures from 5% of voters in at least 38 of the state’s 93 counties to get the question on the ballot. They have until July 3, 2024 to meet that threshold.

The campaign is aiming to collect up to 125,000 signatures, according to Andi Curry Grubb, Planned Parenthood’s executive director in Nebraska. That’s because they’ll need to have signatures from 10% of voters when they turn in their ballot, and voter registration tends to increase during a presidential election year.

Curry Grubb said the campaign is not sharing how many signatures they’ve collected.

“But we are on track and are feeling positive about the response that we've gotten so far,” she said. “We've seen folks from all over the state really step up and get excited about helping collect signatures and signing themselves.”

Paid employees of the organizations behind Protect Our Rights – including I Be Black Girl, ACLU of Nebraska, Nebraska Civic Engagement Table and others – are circulating the petition along with volunteers. Curry Grubb said the campaign has hosted signing events across the state, like in Scottsbluff, Wayne County and Box Butte County as well as in Lincoln and Omaha.

“It feels like everywhere we go, there are people who are really excited to sign the petition and be a part of getting it onto the ballot in November,” she said.

Sandy Danek runs anti-abortion rights group Nebraska Right to Life and said she’s already looking ahead to November 2024, when she expects the issue will come before voters.

“The sad reality is that they will likely get their signatures,” she said. “Our primary focus right now is to educate on the vagueness of the language and the harm it could do.”

Nebraska Right to Life representatives have been handing out fliers with QR codes that invite Nebraskans to sign up for action alerts from the group and circulating other materials – like posters, brochures and packets about the petition drive – among its members.

Danek called the education effort “phase one” of the group's plan to oppose the ballot campaign. She said Nebraska Right to Life is not currently planning an official opposition effort to the petition, along the lines of the “Decline to Sign” group that attempted to obstruct a ballot measure to repeal tax credits for private and religious school scholarships.

“It’s not our primary goal,” Danek said. “You can put your energies into trying to talk people out of signing or you can put it toward educating your base and letting them go out as they do, which is why we’ve been effective for 50 years. We have tremendous grassroots support, and we’re tapping into that.”

The petition language that allows exceptions “when needed to protect the life or health of the pregnant patient,” is especially concerning to Danek.

“There’s no definition of what a health issue is, and health can mean anything,” she said. “We feel strongly that if we let Nebraskans know what some of this language will do, then they will strongly reject it.”