Nebraska’s LB626 would be devastating for women

I recently sent the letter pasted below to my state representative, Brian Hardin. The bill, LB626 passed through the committee, on which he sits, and will now go to the floor for debate.

If anyone wants to use what I wrote, please feel free. As readers of this blog know, this is an important subject matter for me, one in which I never thought I’d have to be fighting. It is 2,285 words long. Regardless of whether or not Hardin listens to me, or even reads my letter, I said my peace. I truly hope the bill fails.

I am writing to express my opposition to LB626, a bill to ban all abortions at six weeks of pregnancy and asking you, as a cosponsor of the bill, to reconsider your position. Many who need abortion care are not even aware they are pregnant at this point in time, which is only two weeks after a missed period. On the chance they do know, there are many obstacles to accessing care, particularly in western Nebraska, where there are no facilities available for abortion care. If the pregnant person can travel, there is the issue of appointment availability, long travel times, missed work, plus mandatory 24-hour waiting periods, scans, and other restrictions, which already exist under current law. This bill is an unnecessary political interference into the practice of medicine.

One only needs to look across the nation to see how such extreme bans have endangered the lives of women via complications put into place with such bans. Many have been denied care or forced to delay essential health care, sometimes, to the point of near death.

A six-week ban forces women and girls to endure torture. Torture is defined as, “the action or practice of inflicting severe pain or suffering on someone as a punishment or in order to force them to do or say something.” If a person chooses to undergo the severe pain and suffering of childbirth, it is a self-sacrifice. When you force a person to endure severe pain and suffering of carrying, laboring, birthing, and recovering from childbirth, it is torture. The difference is a choice. LB626 removes this choice.

Backers of LB626, have attempted to assure Nebraskans this legislation allows for abortion care for survivors of sexual assault, incest, and medical emergencies, however, there is still no effective care in most communities throughout Nebraska. In most cases, pregnant Nebraskans must wait until their life is at risk or face additional trauma of disclosing they are a survivor of rape or incest.

These decisions are deeply personal and should be a subject of consideration between the pregnant person and their doctor. As survivor myself, I did not know I was pregnant until well past six weeks and was so ill I was placed in the hospital. I was 14 years old. Survivors of rape and incest are in the minority of pregnant Nebraskans, but they should be allowed to disclose the situation and receive care in their own time, not by an arbitrary date set forth by politicians.

I assume, Senator Hardin, you have never been the victim of sexual assault and/or rape. Imagine having to tell and retell what happened to you only to be judged by everyone around you. If this bill were to become law, a woman who is raped would have to file a police report, tell the police what happened, tell her family what happened, tell the court what happened. Less than one-third of rapes are reported because the process itself tends to retraumatize the victim. LB626 will remove a way for a rape and/or incest survivor to find her own path toward healing, instead subjecting her to the whims of the state.

If LB626 becomes law, in order for a woman to obtain an abortion because of rape or incest would be placed under a microscope, with every detail of her life examined. Who gets to decide it was legitimate rape? You? The courts? How long is this process going to take? For victims such as myself, the majority of my close family do not know what happened to me was incest. Now, if LB626 becomes law, I would have to report what happened publicly in order to obtain an abortion and wait for some arbitrary person to decide if it was legitimate.

Do you know how many suicides will occur when you place women and girls in this position? I was 14-years old. If abortion had not been legal in New York State where I grew up, I would have found a way to end it all. I would not be a survivor of years of sexual abuse. I would be dead. This is what you are voting for with LB626.

This extreme abortion ban will also see an increase in the already severe maternal mortality crisis of Black women and other people of color because of a lack of access to health care, structural racism, and discrimination within our health care system. “Women in states with abortion bans are nearly three times more likely to die during pregnancy, childbirth or soon after giving birth, according to a report from the Gender Equity Policy Institute.” The report also found that infants born in states with abortion bans were 30% more likely to die than those in supportive states.

Younger Nebraskans, who are already struggling financially, as well as under age Nebraskans, will find few options to assist them. Forcing women to bear children they cannot support will only make outcomes worse, for the woman, the child, and society. It will continue the cyclical problem of poverty. One only need to look to Nicolae Ceaușescu’s Romania or the Taliban in Afghanistan to see the devastating effects.

The Turnaway Study, a longitudinal research project which followed pregnant people for several years, including those who were able to obtain a desired abortion and those who were turned away for some reason (usually related to funding, lack of access, or being too far along in pregnancy) is an important look at what will happen in Nebraska if LB626 were to become law. Some of its findings include:

  • Women who were turned away and went on to give birth experienced an increase in household poverty lasting at least four years relative to those who received an abortion.
  • Years after an abortion denial, women were more likely to not have enough money to cover basic living expenses like food, housing and transportation.
  • By five years, women denied abortions were more likely to be raising children alone – without family members or male partners – compared to women who received an abortion.
  • The children women already have at the time they seek abortions show worse child development when their mother is denied an abortion compared to the children of women who receive one.
  • Children born as a result of abortion denial are more likely to live below the federal poverty level than children born from a subsequent pregnancy to women who received the abortion.
  • Women who were denied an abortion and gave birth reported more life-threatening complications like eclampsia and postpartum hemorrhage compared to those who received wanted abortions.

We have not solved the problem of housing the unwanted Nebraska children, providing proper mental health care and facilities for Nebraska children who need it, and there are still thousands of children up for adoption in the state, who will age out of the system, likely repeating the cycle of poverty because of current policies. These children have not been taken care of by the state, yet the measly provisions in LB626 are supposed to magically fix all these problems? Sir, you are quite delusional if you think an abortion ban is going to stop abortion. It will only stop legal abortions in the state.

The U.S., already has the lowest life expectancy at birth, the highest death rates for avoidable or treatable conditions, the highest maternal and infant mortality, and among the highest suicide rates among first world countries. LB626 will only make this worse.

In 2017, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists noted, “complications that threaten the woman’s health and serious fetal anomalies cannot be detected until later in pregnancy. Decreasing women’s access to abortion will likely increase negative health outcomes and complications, including maternal and infant mortality. It turns back the clock to the time before Roe v. Wade; a time where women seeking to terminate a pregnancy were forced to resort to self-induced and back alley abortions, which often resulted in serious complications and death. We cannot afford to take women’s health care back in time.” If you’d like to understand what will happen to women with an effective ban on abortion, I highly encourage you to read, “When Abortion was a Crime” by Leslie J. Reagan. I would be happy to loan my copy to you.

LB626 uses extremely misleading language, which is intended to trigger people’s emotions toward killing children, something abortion does not do. Calling it a “heartbeat” act is nonsense and disingenuous. Such names for these bills are designed to create an emotional reaction and manipulate you into thinking a specific way. At six weeks, there is an electrical pulse present, but it is not a heartbeat. The heart does not even fully form until many weeks later. At six weeks this part of the embryo is only a mass of undifferentiated cells. The “beat” isn’t audible.

The language of the bill also chooses to use the words “unborn child” instead of the scientifically accurate zygote, embryo, or fetus. There is no such thing as an unborn child. Again, it is using language to make you think a certain way. It has no basis in science.

LB626 attempts to assuage concerned Nebraskans by saying there is a plan to support pregnant Nebraskans with LB606, which will incentivize donations to “crisis pregnancy centers,” which, according to a 2022 study, have been shown to be repeatedly problematic, including Options Pregnancy Center in Scottsbluff. They provide false, misleading, and medically inaccurate information, and are not bound by HIPAA, yet the legislature seems to be fine with crossing the state/religion boundaries by setting up these faith-based, religiously-affiliated organizations to receive taxpayer dollars for their disingenuous work.

We can all agree abortion should be rare. How can we, as Nebraskans, as Americans, accomplish this task? The best way is through comprehensive sexual education, which religious entities in Nebraska have fought to prevent. I was a paraeducator in Gering Public Schools for six years. My husband has been teaching in the district for 15 years. The school district provides no required comprehensive sexual education, leaving youth to search for information online. I currently work at the CAPWN Youth Shelter and am often asked basic questions from youth as they have nowhere else to turn to. Study after study proves, effective, comprehensive sexual education and contraception reduces the need for abortion.

By naming the bill a “heartbeat” act, it is attempting to enshrine theology into law. If you believe life starts at this electrical impulse, you are stating a theological belief, not fact. The science does not support this belief. History and religious texts state just the opposite. The Bible’s only direct reference to abortion describes how to perform one (Numbers 5:11-31).

Benjamin Franklin wrote a recipe for how to perform an abortion in a book in the 1700s. There is no evidence anyone was upset with the book’s publication. He is not alone. Such recipes were common in the early days of the republic and for centuries before.

Rabbi Barry Silver, who oversees Congregation L’Dor Va-Dor, said, “Jewish law is very clear: Human life begins at birth, and up until the time of birth, a woman has autonomy to make the decision for herself.” LB626 ignores the Jewish law that human life begins when you take your first breath. As a richly diverse country, no single religion or belief system should ever supersede another or dictate policies in such a manner.

The courts would also likely strike down LB626. A similar bill in South Carolina was recently struck down because it violated a woman’s constitutional right to privacy. “We hold that the decision to terminate a pregnancy rests upon the utmost personal and private considerations imaginable, and implicates a woman’s right to privacy,” wrote Justice Kaye Hearn, who wrote the majority opinion. “While this right is not absolute, and must be balanced against the State’s interest in protecting unborn life, this Act, which severely limits — and in many instances completely forecloses — abortion, is an unreasonable restriction upon a woman’s right to privacy and is therefore unconstitutional.”

After the ruling, the state reverted back to its 2016 law banning most abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, which is similar to Nebraska’s current law.

The majority of Nebraskans do not want further restrictions, as you witnessed during the committee hearing on February 1 and to which I submitted a letter of opposition. The limits on abortion in Nebraska are already strict, making abortion difficult to obtain. There’s no need to introduce additional hardships upon pregnant Nebraskans. Nationwide, “6 in 10 Catholic voters, about 8 in 10 Jewish voters and close to 9 in 10 religious unaffiliated voters say abortion should be legal in all or most cases.” I urge you to seriously reconsider your position on LB626.

LB626 is about punishing poor women. It is about boots on the necks of women. It is designed through an ideology which is out of touch with society and science, and is a dangerous attack on women. It would weaponize the law against an entire class of people. Senator Joni Albrecht said women should be supported. By forcing women to relinquish their bodily autonomy, everyone who supports and votes for this bill are, in fact, stating that women are not full citizens, not respected, and not heard.

A vote for LB626 tells women they are chattel, nothing more. It will be a law of government mandated pregnancies. Remember this the next time someone asks why the young people are leaving the state. LB626 is religion hiding behind bad law. A vote for it is a vote to move backward toward a time where women were little more than property. Senator Hardin, I urge you to reconsider your vote. Stop this unnecessary bill.

Note: After sending this letter, I read on Twitter where our illustrious governor stated we’d have more workers in the state if it weren’t for abortion. I’m embedding the tweet from Senator Megan Hunt’s feed.

Absolutely disgusting. If I had known (I don’t use Twitter), I would have included it in my letter.

You can also read my letter to the committee or my letter last year to Sen. Stinner and Gov. Pete Ricketts.


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1 Comment

  1. Such a powerful statement, Irene, on why the right to an abortion matters. I’m like that old woman in the photo, I can’t believe we still have to fight (and fight harder than ever before) to have this right. It’s frustrating and discouraging, but I refuse to be a second-class citizen, without the right to decide what happens to my own body and my own life.

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