LINCOLN, Neb. –
Nebraska lawmakers were debating a plan late Tuesday that would include a proposed 12-week abortion ban in a bill that would ban gender-affirming care for transgender minors.
The combination of two hotly contested measures makes for what could be one of the most volatile debates of the session.
Technically, lawmakers need to pass the final round of debate on the trans health bill, which has already passed the first two of three rounds it must survive to pass and go to the state of Nebraska. Jim Peelen’s desk. But because legislative rules don’t allow for amendments in the final phase of bills, lawmakers debated whether to send the bill back to a second round of discussion to add the abortion amendment.
Opponents of the move planned to contest the entire two-hour debate allowed by the final reading of the bill. Conservatives in the unique unicameral, formally nonpartisan legislature need a vote of 33 of the body’s 49 senators to end debate before the plan to merge the two issues can move forward. If they fail, both the abortion and trans health measures will be suspended within a year.
Conservatives were stung last month when their bill to ban abortions after cardiac arrest, which occurs around six weeks into pregnancy before most women even know they’re pregnant, failed to break a filibuster with one vote.
Usually the matter was debated for the rest of the session. But last week, anti-abortion lawmakers tried to revive it by proposing to ban abortion at 12 weeks and attaching it to the trans bill.
The Conservatives see the 12-week amendment as a compromise they believe they can muster the 33 votes needed to see it through. Opposition lawmakers say the change is an unprecedented attempt to take another stab at a measure they were promised by the Legislature’s speaker not to revive this year.
Adding to the noise is the underlying transhealth bill, which has been the most controversial of the session. Presented by freshman Sen. Kathleen Kaut, the bill would ban hormone therapy, puberty blockers and sex-reassignment surgery for those 18 and younger.
The amended version would make exceptions for minors who had already undergone hormone treatment before the ban took effect, but would also give the state’s chief medical officer broad authority to set rules for the use of hormone treatment for transgender minors. Opponents say it would give the governor’s Republican political appointee the power to block such treatment, even for minors who live with a grandfather.
Both abortion and transgender restrictions have been consistent targets this year amid a national push by conservatives in state legislatures.
The introduction of the trans health ban led to the Omaha Sen. In late February, Machaela Kavanaugh vowed to “burn down the session if it goes ahead. When the conservative Health and Human Services Committee brought it up anyway, Kavanaugh began an epic vetting of every bill before the body, even ones he supports, until the trans-health ban was repealed or killed.
He and a supporting cast of lawmakers have done just that for nearly 12 weeks, even as the bill survived the first and second rounds of debate by one vote. This year, the Legislature has greatly slowed the contentious effort, forcing lawmakers to cobble together bills and endure grueling 12-hour and sometimes 15-hour days to pass legislation.
If the plan to merge abortion and trans-health measures is voted in favor, lawmakers will again consider whether to send the combined bill to the final stage of consideration. That latest round could start on Thursday and probably will.
Peele, a Republican elected in November, has said he would sign the amended bill if it passes. The bill would include an emergency provision, meaning it would go into effect as soon as the governor signs it.