Abortion by the numbers in Nebraska

Nebraska DHHS data show nearly 2,400 abortions were performed in the state in 2021.
6 News is looking into abortion in Nebraska by the numbers and just how many procedures are performed in the state.
Published: Jan. 11, 2023 at 10:16 PM CST
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - As the fight over abortion continues in Nebraska, 6 News took a closer look at the most recent abortion data from the state.

Currently, abortions in the state are allowed for up to 20 weeks, but Nebraska State Sen. Joni Albrecht of Thurston, alongside several other Republican senators, are hoping once again to change that.

“The Nebraska ‘Heartbeat Act’ that will protect lives of baby boys and girls with beating heartbeats from abortion,” Albrecht said Wednesday in an announcement in the Capitol rotunda.

Data from the Nebraska DHHS shows that in 2021, there were 2,360 abortions, all of them performed by just five physicians.

If Albrecht’s bill passes, which would require support from 33 senators, doctors who perform abortions could face losing their medical licenses.

“One of the different aspects of this bill is that the consequences of doing so are limited to losing your license or some other form of medical disciplinary punishment, it does not attach criminal penalties to abortion, which a lot of other states are doing,” says UNL Associate Law Professor Marilyn Fidler.

“Before performing an abortion, a physician must perform an ultrasound to listen for a fetal heartbeat. If the heartbeat is detected, performing an abortion is unlawful,” Albrecht said Wednesday.

Cardiac activity in an embryo typically occurs around the sixth week of pregnancy, and in 2021, more than half of all Nebraska abortions — 1,243 of them — were performed during the sixth, seventh, and eighth weeks of pregnancy.

“A lot of people don’t even know they are pregnant until after 6 weeks,” said state senator Megan Hunt, a fierce abortion advocate, said Wednesday following Alrecht’s announcement.

“At first glance, this may appear as a more moderate bill, but the reality is it’s still going to function as a near-total ban,” says Fidler. “It would have a major effect in Nebraska, again, the reason they’re including licensing penalties is because that is an effective deterrent, there are not a lot of doctors who will be willing to risk their licenses to perform these procedures.”

8% of abortions in 2021 were due to the mental or physical health of the mother, or because the mother’s life was in danger. Although Albrecht’s bill would have exceptions for rape, incest, and the mother’s life, Fidler says they’re still missing a big one.

“Which is where the fetus is no longer viable, but still has a heartbeat but the woman is at risk, but not emergent risk,” she says. “So there’s an exception for medical emergencies and exceptions for a miscarriage when the fetus no longer has a heartbeat, but it leaves open this really dangerous zone where abortions would not be available for women in that situation.”

DHHS data shows that 72% of abortions in 2021 were medically induced, and the remainder were performed in a clinic.

Besides Nebraska, women who sought abortions were mostly from Iowa, South Dakota, Kansas, Missouri, and Texas.

Digital Director Gina Dvorak contributed to this report.