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ACLU challenges Nebraska ban on abortions and sex-change procedures

A view of the Nebraska state capitol

Henryk Sadura | Shutterstock

John Burger - published on 06/04/23

Lawmakers attached abortion ban to transgender bill in an effort to overcome filibuster.

A new law in Nebraska that restricts abortions to 12 weeks and also prohibits sex-change procedures for persons under the age of 19 is facing a legal challenge from the American Civil Liberties Union. 

The Let Them Grow Act, which Republican Gov. Jim Pillen signed into law May 29, originally applied only to transgender issues. But because a Democratic member of the state legislature led filibusters against many bills in the 2023 session, legislators added the abortion restrictions to the Let Them Grow Act. The Republican-majority, unicameral legislature passed the bill May 19 along party lines, 33-15.

But the ACLU says  the bill violates the state’s constitution, which stipulates that laws must be about only one subject. The ACLU filed a lawsuit in a state court May 30 on behalf of Planned Parenthood and one of its doctors who performs abortions in the Cornhusker State. 

Legislators felt compelled to attach an amendment to the transgender bill May 17 in order to get an abortion ban passed.

The ACLU is asking for an injunction to block enforcement of the transgender and abortion restrictions until the court case is decided.

The abortion ban, which was to go into effect the day after the governor signed the law, has exceptions for sexual assault, incest and medical emergencies. Lawmakers originally tried to pass a “heartbeat” bill, which would limit the availability of abortion to the first six weeks of gestation.

The transgender surgery ban, which also restricts the use of hormone treatments and puberty blockers in minors, is set to go into effect October 1.

Omaha Senator Kathleen Kauth, a freshman lawmaker who introduced the transgender restriction, defended its combination with the abortion ban.

“I mean, it’s called the ‘Let Them Grow Act,’” she said, according to Chadron Radio. “I think restricting abortion is very much in that same subject.”

“All children deserve a chance to grow and live happy, fruitful lives,” Gov. Pillen said after the legislation passed. “This includes pre-born boys and girls, and it includes children struggling with their gender identity,” he said in a statement after the bill’s passage. “These kids deserve the opportunity to grow and explore who they are and want to be, and they can do so without making irreversible decisions that should be made when they are fully grown.”

“Lives will be saved”

According to CNN, State Sen. Ben Hansen introduced a “Preborn Child Protection Act” amendment after his “Heartbeat Act” failed to overcome a filibuster. “Hansen said the amended bill was born out of compromises to overcome the filibuster, with a two-thirds vote needed to break that obstacle in Nebraska’s legislature,” the news network said. 

He also said adding the restrictions onto the already existing bill was Republicans’ last shot at passing abortion restrictions in the Cornhusker State, which have been sought by Pillen since the overturning of Roe v. Wade

“We didn’t shove things down people’s throats like we could have, I think we paused and listened like we should have,” Hansen said, which he said got the Republicans to the 33 votes they needed. 

“These are some of the socially and culturally hottest topics that are tough to deal with,” he added. “Some people don’t deal with them. We are.”

Tom Venzor, executive director of the Nebraska Catholic Conference, expressed satisfaction after passage of the Let Them Grow Act.

“On Day 81 of the 90-day session, after months of filibustering, daily attempts by opposition to run the session into the ground, countless hours of debate, and numerous attempts to kill or delay the bill, the Nebraska Legislature voted for the passage of the Let Them Grow Act by a vote of 33 to 15,” he wrote. “Thousands of children’s lives will be saved from dangerous, life-altering puberty blockers, cross-sex hormones, and transgender surgeries. In addition, hundreds of babies and mothers will be protected each year from abortion. While there had to be compromises to the bill to ensure its passage, each life saved and protected matters. Incremental wins are also important wins.” 

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