LB 574 advances to final round with Hansen’s amendment, combining gender-affirming care & abortion restrictions

Published: May. 16, 2023 at 8:33 PM CDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

LINCOLN, Neb. (Nebraska Examiner) - The session-long fight in some Nebraska lawmakers’ efforts to further restrict abortion and restrict some gender-affirming care for minors progressed forward Tuesday evening, with the majority of state senators voting in favor of State Senator Ben Hansen’s amendment and the bill itself.

After invoking cloture and ending debate around 7:55 p.m. with 33 ‘yes’ votes and 14 ‘no’ votes, the Nebraska Legislature voted 33 to 15 for Hansen’s amendment to LB 574 and then 33 to 14 to advance the bill itself, with the amendment, to Enrollment & Review to be reprinted for the Final Reading stage. The legislature adjourned after that until Wednesday. It’s unclear when the final round debate and vote for the newly-amended LB 574 will take place. If it passes the final round, it moves on to the governor’s desk.

Governor Pillen issued the following statement in response to state senators advancing LB574:

“Our kids are our future, and the advancement of LB574 is an important step in protecting that future. I applaud the senators who voted for LB574 and stood up for our commonsense, conservative values. I am proud to have partnered with conservative senators in this fight and look forward to signing the bill upon final passage.”

American Civil Liberties Union of Nebraska Interim Executive Director Mindy Rush Chipman made this statement on Tuesday’s vote:

“Rather than respecting that health care decisions belong to Nebraskans and their medical providers, senators are spending these last few weeks of session trying to impose their personal beliefs on everyone else,” Rush Chipman said. “They are disregarding what constituents want, ignoring medical experts and jeopardizing Nebraskans’ health. Now is the time for all Nebraskans who believe in freedom to contact their senators and urge them to oppose these cruel bans.”

Andi Curry Grubb, Executive Director of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Nebraska, also commented on the vote:

“We are saddened by but not deterred by today’s vote by lawmakers who want to take away the rights of the people who they represent. But this fight is far from over. For now, abortion and gender affirming care remain safe and legal in Nebraska and our residents have the right to control their bodies, families and futures. And we won’t stop until we win this fight for Nebraskans today and for generations to come.”

The amendment’s history

State Sen. Ben Hansen of Blair unveiled the amendment last Monday to merge the two issues this session into Legislative Bill 574, proposed by State Sen. Kathleen Kauth of Omaha. Hansen’s change would add an approximate 12-week abortion ban (though shorter because it’s based on gestational age) to the restrictions on gender-affirming care for minors.

Senators who had previously supported, but expressed concerns about, either proposal told the Nebraska Examiner the amendment is an improvement, potentially netting a necessary 33 votes.

The amendment revives efforts to further restrict abortion after State Sen. Merv Riepe of Ralston voted “present” on April 27, killing LB 626, the proposal to ban abortion after an ultrasound detects embryonic cardiac activity. Now, an abortion bill is back in a new form.

Seventy-seven days into the 90-day legislative session, tension and uncertainty have dominated previous stages of debate for these respective measures.

During the final hours of first-round debate on LB 574, opponents blocked supporters from speaking, and during second-round debate, opponents forced consideration of a narrowing amendment that led to a 45-minute pause in deliberations.

Kauth pulled that narrowing amendment in retribution but led “listening sessions” on LB 574, which informed parts of the Hansen amendment.

The fight over LB 574 has also included rules changes that did not weaken or slow the now 11-week filibuster, a threat of censure and an ethics complaint after one lawmaker detailed how the bill would harm her son, who is transgender.

What’s on the table

LB 574 intended to prohibit genital or non-genital surgeries, puberty blockers and hormone therapies before the age of 19. But, if amended, it would prohibit only surgeries. Instead, the chief medical officer and Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services would regulate the medications.

Thirty national and international organizations endorse gender-affirming care, and the Nebraska Medical Association opposed LB 574.

The Hansen amendment would ban abortions two to three weeks earlier than the 12-week ban offered by Riepe and does not include an exception for fetal anomalies incompatible with life. Exceptions for rape, incest and the life of the mother are included.

Opponents have doubted whether these would be “real” exceptions or just be “lip service.”

Three new issues emerge

Single subject rule: The Nebraska Constitution requires legislative proposals to be focused on a “single subject,” which has raised questions on the Hansen amendment.

Some argue the attempt opens the state up to a possible lawsuit, legal and political experts told the Nebraska Examiner last week.

The chief medical officer and DHHS: The Hansen amendment would authorize the chief medical officer to craft regulation of puberty blockers and hormone therapies. The chief medical officer is a political appointee who was part of the State Board of Health when it issued a statement in support of LB 574. DHHS would set enforcement parameters.

Under the Hansen amendment, no new minors could receive these medications for transition services after Oct. 1 unless new rules are in place. This sets up a timeline of potentially 2025 until new medications can be issued, though there is a “grandfather” clause for minors to continue care.

Opponents worry that delegating regulations to HHS could lead to a “backdoor” ban and that LB 574 is discriminatory in nature because it restricts gender-affirming care only for trans youth, not their cisgender peers.

Fatal fetal anomalies: Riepe proposed an alternative abortion ban timed 12 weeks from fertilization, with specific language allowing abortions later in the cases of fetal anomalies incompatible with life. However, both aspects have changed.

The Hansen amendment instead ties its 12-week ban to gestational age, meaning it is two to three weeks shorter than Riepe’s proposal. Hansen said this would reduce the number of total abortions and follows much of the medical community that times pregnancy by gestation.

Hansen also said he and others who prefer a stricter ban chose to leave out the Riepe language on fetal anomalies because they do not believe that someone should be able to end a life because it is unlikely to live long — or at all — after being born.

Meanwhile, doctors who support abortion rights have argued it is cruel to force women to carry a baby without a brain or lungs to full term, knowing it cannot survive outside of the womb.