Last week, the Susan B. Anthony List spent $40,000 on a radio ad against Nebraska’s Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Bob Kerrey (and, weirdly, New York); a man so “extreme” he voted against a partial birth abortion ban and parental notification. “The ad will air on country, Christian, and oldies music stations in the Omaha and Lincoln media markets through Election Day.” Kerrey will not likely win against Republican nominee state Senator Deb Fischer, who was endorsed by Sarah Palin as “a fellow ‘Mama Grizzly.’”
Nebraska has a turbulent relationship with reproductive rights.
In 2000, the United States Supreme Court struck down a Nebraska law banning partial-birth abortion which provided no exception for the health of the mother in the case Stenberg vs. Carhart. But in 2007, after Sandra Day O’Connor’s retirement and replacement by Samuel Alito, this ruling was overturned in Gonzales vs. Carhart. In Gonzalez, SCOTUS upheld the 2003 Federal Partial-Birth Abortion Ban, which likewise provides no exception for the health of the mother.
Perhaps most dangerously, the precedent set in Gonzales is that Congress can regulate medical care when the medical community has not reached “consensus.”
An editorial on Gonzales in the New England Journal of Medicine said: “This is the first time the Court has ever held that physicians can be prohibited from using a medical procedure deemed necessary by the physician to benefit the patient's health.”
Legal battles continue in Nebraska over women’s health legislation.
An Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals refused to overturn an injunction issued by a lower court blocking the “Women’s Health Protection Act,” a piece of legislation that would have required pre-abortion detailed “counseling,” mental health screenings, and “established a cause of action for a woman for the wrongful death of her unborn child.” This month, the Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal on this ruling from Nebraskans United for Life. The Supreme Court’s refusal to consider the appeal permanently upholds the lower court’s decision.
Though it might seem that way, not every reproductive health law passed in Nebraska is taken up in court. Republican Governor Dave Heineman signed the first ever fetal pain bill in 2010. The bill apparently grew out of the fallout from the late Dr. George Tiller’s murder. Though Dr. Tiller practiced in Kansas, Nebraska doctor LeRoy Carhart (the same doctor from the Supreme Court cases) “said he would carry on [Tiller’s] legacy by performing some later-term abortions in his clinic in Bellevue, Nebraska.” Some theorize that this bill targets Dr. Carhart specifically.
Though we can argue the validity of fetal pain theories all day long, the real truth is that there is at least one case of tragedy stemming directly from this law. Late in 2010, a 34-year-old Nebraskan woman, less than six months (22-23 weeks) into her pregnancy, learned about the impact of this legislation the hard way.
“Her water broke early and, without amniotic fluid, the fetus would not develop lungs to survive outside the womb.”
Because they knew the child would not live, she and her husband decided to seek a medical solution. They were denied because, thanks to the fetal pain law, doctors could lose their medical licenses and face jail time if they performed the procedure. So she was forced to give birth to a less-than-two-pound baby, “and could do nothing but hold and comfort the baby ... as the newborn struggled to breath and died fifteen agonizing minutes later.” ( You can read her letter to Arizona governor Jan Brewer here.)
Next time you find yourself thinking “fetal pain, that kind of makes sense,” just remind yourself: what about mommy pain?
In 2011, laws went into effect to require written, notarized parental consent for girls under 17 seeking abortions, as well as to ban “telemedicine,” a procedure which had yet to be performed in the state at the time. Nebraska will also prohibit the exchange of insurance plans covering abortion on the state health exchange.
And perhaps the most astonishing Nebraska legislation of 2011: a “justifiable homicide bill,” a bill which would “authorize and protect vigilantes” “to commit "justifiable homicide" in defense of [a] fetus.” The bill mimics and ups the ante on a South Dakota bill which would have extended “justifiable homicide” rights (if you can call them that) only to a pregnant woman and her immediate family. This bill was shelved, but the fervor behind it was frightening enough.
Editor's Note: With 13 days left until the presidential election, PolicyMic's Audrey Farber will be posting a daily update on the state of abortion rights in the U.S., covering legislative challenges to Roe v. Wade in all 50 states. So far, we've gotten updates on: Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas,Louisiana ,Arkansas,Missouri, Kentucky, Minnesota, Illinois, Iowa, Mississippi, Michigan, Indiana, Alabama, Ohio, Florida, Georgia, D.C., South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia and Maryland, Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey, New York, Wisconsin, Connecticut, Vermont, Massachusetts & Rhode Island, Maine & New Hampshire. Check back in every day to keep track!