This Was A Very Bad Week For Abortion Rights And Democracy

In the past week, Republican lawmakers across multiple states took aggressive aim at reproductive rights, craftily using the legislative process to revive restrictive abortion bans.

In Nebraska’s single-chamber legislature on Friday, lawmakers held their final vote and passed L.B. 574, an effort to restrict youth access to gender-affirming health care that now includes an unrelated amendment banning abortion after 12 weeks of pregnancy. In an unconventional move, Republicans quickly tacked the ban onto the bill this week after a six-week abortion ban failed in the chamber last month.

Jane Kleeb, chair of the Nebraska Democratic Party, slammed the combining of those efforts on Wednesday as “twisting the rules to merge two awful bills.”

During Friday’s debate, several Nebraska Democrats accused Republicans of violating the state’s single-subject rule, designed to ensure bills have one primary purpose, and derided them for pushing through the amendment without a proper hearing.

“The reason the abortion part was added was because the transgender part could not pass without it … and clearly the abortion bill couldn’t pass without the trans bill, because we had to bring it back to life. It’s a zombie bill,” state Sen. John Cavanaugh (D) charged on the chamber’s floor Friday.

“One bill is being used to induce your vote for the other, which is one of the reasons we have the single-subject rule,” he told his colleagues in the legislature.

State Sen. Danielle Conrad (D) raised the same concerns. “It is not a compromise,” she said. “It is a hastily considered restructuring of the original 574.”

Republicans said little of their maneuvering during the debate and instead characterized the 12-week abortion ban as a reasonable middle course.

“Many of us feel that the six-week ‘heartbeat’ bill was the answer,” state Sen. John Lowe (R) said. “We’re giving up six weeks as a compromise. We’re giving up those little children who will never breathe air.”

But a 12-week abortion ban in Nebraska, where the procedure is currently banned after 20 weeks of pregnancy, will still have a major effect on many patients, experts have warned. More than 1,000 Nebraska medical professionals have signed a letter opposing the legislation, saying it “puts patients’ lives at risk, and it puts the careers of medical professionals at risk.”

And while several Nebraska Republicans noted Friday that most abortions already occur within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, that ignores the current, in-flux landscape of abortion access.

Wait times for appointments have increased at abortion clinics nationwide as several states have put highly restrictive bans on the procedure, and Nebraska, which is near states with stricter abortion timelines, has seen one of the highest percentage increases in the procedure since the fall of Roe v. Wade last year. In reality, many patients will need to become aware of their pregnancies and decide how to proceed far before the 12-week mark.

The bill now goes to Republican Gov. Jim Pillen, who is expected to sign it into law.

Similarly frustrating legislative processes concerning abortion also unfolded in the Carolinas this week.

In North Carolina, Republicans managed to narrowly override Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto on a 12-week abortion ban thanks to the party’s new supermajority in the state House. They had the numbers necessary because state Rep. Tricia Cotham switched parties in April mere months after running for reelection as a Democrat who’d had a history of supporting reproductive rights.

“Some call me a hypocrite since I voted for this bill,” Cotham said in a lengthy statement following the vote.

An abortion rights supporter's sign slams North Carolina state Rep. Tricia Cotham (R) as a "traitor."
An abortion rights supporter’s sign slams North Carolina state Rep. Tricia Cotham (R) as a “traitor.”

JONATHAN DRAKE via Reuters

She defended the legislation by saying it provides a reasonable timeline for the procedure and ensures patients can still receive life-saving abortions, like she did in 2015. However, several incidents from the past year demonstrate that exceptions for the life of the mother are difficult to apply and often result in hospitals waiting until a patient is at death’s door before agreeing to terminate a dangerous pregnancy.

Meanwhile, Republicans in the South Carolina House passed a six-week abortion ban late Wednesday. After they failed to get it through in the regular session, Republican Gov. Henry McMaster called lawmakers back in for a special session earlier this month ― something a South Carolina governor hasn’t done in over two decades.

Democrats tried to derail the bill’s passage by filing more than 1,000 amendments. “We are going to make it hurt if they are going to force this on us,” state Rep. Beth Bernstein (D) said, according to CNN. But House Speaker Murrel Smith vowed not to adjourn until the six-week ban found approval.

“Bring supper, dinner, breakfast, lunch, whatever for days or however long you want to get through amendments,” he said last week.

The bill now goes to the state Senate for one more vote.

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