LINCOLN — A controversial abortion bill got its day in the legislative spotlight Wednesday, but its future appears murky.
State Sen. Suzanne Geist of Lincoln, who introduced Legislative Bill 814, acknowledged she doesn’t currently have enough votes to cut off a filibuster. She said she will be working to get them in the nine remaining days of the session.
Debate on the bill ended after three hours under a practice instituted by Speaker of the Legislature Jim Scheer of Norfolk. He will schedule the measure for continued debate if Geist shows that she can muster the necessary 33 votes for a cloture motion.
LB 814 seeks to ban a common second-trimester abortion method known medically as dilation and evacuation. The procedure involves dilating a woman’s cervix and removing the fetus in pieces. Opponents call the procedure dismemberment abortion.
The bill was named the top priority of the session by abortion opponents.
Tempers flared last week before lawmakers voted 30-8 to pull LB 814 out of the Judiciary Committee, where it had been stalled. Wednesday’s discussion took a more measured tone, as senators debated about life, death, freedom, constitutional law, health care and stages of fetal development.
Supporters of the bill said the majority of Nebraskans would support the proposed ban, which seeks to do away with an abortion method they called “horrific to talk about,” “barbaric” and “inhumane.”
“I think it’s a fitting time to ask ourselves what’s the value of life,” Geist said.
But she also said the measure would not limit access to second-trimester abortions in Nebraska, saying that they could be accomplished in other ways. Nebraska statistics show that most second-trimester abortions in the state are done using other methods, in contrast to national numbers showing the dilation and evacuation method is used in 95% of abortions at that stage.
Other abortion foes cited those statistics in arguing that the proposed ban would pass constitutional muster. Sen. Andrew LaGrone of Gretna said the courts would treat a Nebraska ban differently from those challenged in other states.
The courts have blocked such bans in all but two of the dozen states that have passed them. The two states where bans have taken effect have no abortion providers that perform second-trimester abortions.
Sen. Megan Hunt of Omaha, who led opposition to the bill, predicted that LB 814 would be overturned as well if it were passed and that the state could end up paying hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees.
She and other advocates of abortion rights argued that decisions about whether and how to do an abortion should be left to doctors and women, guided by their families and their faith.
“We aren’t truly free unless we can make decisions about our own lives, our own bodies,” Hunt said.
Some senators took a third position, saying they supported the goal of LB 814 but not the specifics of the measure.
Sen. Carol Blood of Bellevue questioned why the bill would ban the use of forceps to remove pieces of a fetus but allow the use of suction. She also questioned why it would give a husband the right to sue a doctor who violated the ban but would not give the same right to an unmarried father.
The abortion procedure banned by LB 814 is used from Week 13 through Week 24 of a woman’s pregnancy. The ban would apply when clamps, forceps or similar instruments are used to remove pieces of a viable fetus. The ban would not apply if suction is used to remove pieces of a fetus. It also would not apply if the fetus was dead before being removed.
Under the bill it would be a Class IV felony, punishable by up to two years in prison and a $10,000 fine, for a doctor to perform such an abortion. The bill also would allow a doctor to be sued for performing the procedure. The woman having such an abortion could not be charged.