When Nebraska passed its 20-week abortion ban in 2010, it was the most restrictive in the country. Now that Arkansas has passed a 12-week ban and North Dakota a 6-week ban (with a personhood amendment on the ballot for next fall), it hardly seems fair to criticize Nebraska for holding at 20 weeks — in essence, for not making it any worse.
But Nebraska was in the news again weeks ago when it revived the prenatal care debate. Under state law, undocumented immigrants may receive publicly funded prenatal care for their unborn children because they will be born American citizens. But Republican lawmakers failed to see their own hypocrisy when they discussed banning prenatal care for these fetuses. Lawmakers who were all about banning abortions just years ago under the "pro-life" guise were suddenly against certain babies being born healthy.
Luckily, the Health and Human Services Committee unanimously shot down the ban. But for Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman — who supported a repeal and even suggested it during budget negotiations — and other lawmakers who were pushing for a ban, this is a statewide "issue" that needs to be rectified. Which, of course, still makes no sense. Gov. Heineman has signed every anti-abortion bill that has reached his desk. He is restricting women's access to a safe abortion past 20 weeks. (One woman had to watch her baby die since it was born too early to survive, at 22 weeks, but could not be aborted.) Yet he supports legislation that would prevent several more babies from being born healthy.
This is what puts Nebraska lawmakers in a tough spot. The state has never been one to sympathize with undocumented immigrants, and its multitude of laws against the ones who live in the state are very specific and shockingly ruthless.
Suddenly, last year's health care law came into effect, and the unborn children of undocumented immigrants were eligible for benefits since they would be born American. The logic was stable, the money was available, and it would still not allow the undocumented immigrant carrying the child to be eligible for benefits — the perfect combination for a pro-life politician.
Some pro-lifers stood by it, calling the potential for a ban a "sick game" and accusing those against it of lacking a "moral compass."
"Simply put, no mother, whether she has legal presence or not, should ever have to ponder the possibility of aborting her wanted unborn baby because she cannot afford prenatal care," said Shirl Mora James, a Lincoln civil rights and immigration attorney.
The committee agreed with Mora James, saying it made fiscal and moral sense for babies who will be American citizens. Nebraska provides this care through the Children's Health Insurance Program, which applies to groups not eligible for Medicaid.
Interestingly enough, it actually costs the state more to not provide this care. In 2010 when Heineman stopped covering all prenatal care, pregnant women skipped doctor's appointments because they couldn't afford them. Those forced to go to the hospital racked up hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical bills they couldn't pay. How "pro-life" does that sound? Whose lives were they protecting?
Thankfully, Nebraska seems to have its act together for the moment. Having dodged this anti-life bullet, pregnant women across the state no longer have to fear for the lives of their unborn children in addition to their own. But its willingness to sacrifice several "innocent" lives for the sake of imposing more bans on undocumented immigrants — or even citizens — is troubling, especially when abortion may not be an option. Hopefully, other conservative-run states will learn from Nebraska's mistakes and not try to pass laws that can only hurt wanted children of the poor and undocumented around the country.