Gov. Pillen signs Nebraska’s 12-week abortion ban, trans youth care ban

Abortion law went into effect upon its signing; the gender-affirming care ban for minors will go into effect in the fall.
Published: May. 22, 2023 at 11:33 AM CDT
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LINCOLN, Neb. (WOWT) - A bill whose debate cast a shadow on the entire legislative session was signed into law Monday afternoon.

At a crowded ceremony and alongside his two eldest granddaughters, Gov. Jim Pillen signed LB574, the bill to ban gender-affirming care for minors — which sparked ongoing filibusters from opponents throughout the session — that was passed by Unicameral on Friday along with its attached 12-week abortion ban, AM1658.

“It’s all about protecting our kids, cutting taxes, growing agriculture, and standing up for our values,” he said.

The governor called Monday’s signing an answer to more than 50 years of prayers and “an extremely historic day for Nebraska. It’s a day where it’s really simple: We’re standing up to protect our kids so our state has a bigger and brighter future. LB574 is the most significant win for social conservative agenda that over a generation has seen in Nebraska. I think that’s something we need to clap and shout about.”

The signing comes about a month after a six-week abortion ban failed by one vote in the Nebraska Legislature. Upon being signed into law with an emergency clause, abortions in the state — previously banned at 20 weeks — were immediately limited to 12 weeks from the last period with exceptions for medical emergencies, rape, and incest but not for fetal anomalies.

LB574, which goes into effect Oct. 1, bans gender-affirming surgeries to those younger than age 19, the age of consent in Nebraska. New regulations on puberty blockers and hormone therapy for those patients are set to be decided by the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services and the state’s chief medical officer, currently Dr. Timothy Tesmer, an ear, nose, and throat doctor appointed by the governor earlier this year.

The bill resurrected two issues many on both sides thought were dead. The ban on gender-affirming care had stalled; but once supporters attached a 12-week ban, the one holdout — State Sen. Merv Riepe of Ralston, a former hospital administrator — switched his vote, giving both issues new life.

Newly passed abortion, trans minor care bill sparks political reactions

Nebraska officials, advocates, activists, and politicians made their stances known after the Legislature passed the session’s most contentious bill on Friday.

Governor Jim Pillen
NSP arrests six at state capitol during Friday’s debate

During Friday's session, Lt. Gov. Joe Kelly ordered the balconies be cleared for the remainder of the debate

Nebraska State Patrol troopers arrested six people during protests in relation to LB574 at the...


While the senators who gathered in the governor’s hearing room Monday signaled the newest laws were just the beginning, opponents of these bills say the victory may be short-lived.

In its response to Monday’s signing, representatives of Planned Parenthood assured the public that the new law would not affect their staffing or locations and that they would continue offering abortions as allowed by law — or help patients get appointments out of state if needed.

“We know that health care restrictions uniquely impact marginalized communities most. People of color, people with low incomes, the LGBTQIA+ community, people with disabilities, and people in rural areas face more barriers to health care,” said Ruth Richardson, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood North Central States in a Monday news release sent in response to the new abortion law. “We will keep working to shrink health inequities and expand health care to all. Every person deserves the freedom to control their lives, bodies, and futures.”

Planned Parenthood told 6 News on Monday that they did not experience a noticeable uptick in women seeking out abortion services over the weekend despite the expectation that the governor would likely sign LB574 into law in short order once it passed final reading on Friday.

“Politicians have made our work unnecessarily harder, but our doors are open and we’ll keep doing everything we can for patients and communities.”

Statement from Ruth Richardson, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood North Central States

Nebraska Medicine re-affirmed its opposition to LB574 following the signing ceremony, but acknowledged the new laws put in place: “While Nebraska Medicine remains opposed to legislation that interferes with the doctor-patient relationship, the health system will comply with the newly passed law, even as it conflicts with long-established medical standards of care. Nebraska Medicine will continue to support its patients, staff and physicians through these changes.”

ACLU of Nebraska also noted the medical community’s opposition to the bill, noting that more than 1,000 local medical professionals warned senators that LB574 would put lives at risk; and made reference to fighting the ban in the courts.

“The governor’s decision to sign these sweeping restrictions into law betrays a total disregard for Nebraskans’ freedom, health, and well-being,” said Mindy Rush Chipman, interim executive director of the ACLU of Nebraska. “Just as we have seen in other states, these bans will result in significant harm, most intensely hurting already vulnerable communities. ... Every option is on the table to undo these regressive measures, including seeking justice through the courts.”

The Nebraska Catholic Conference applauded Monday’s signing, saying in a statement that the state had become “a safer and more nurturing place for children to be born and grow up. By safeguarding children from harmful surgeries, abortion, and dangerous drugs, we are empowering them to grow, thrive, and fulfill their potential.”


Pillen singled out three state senators for their efforts in getting the two bills across the finish line. He invited State Sens. Joni Albrecht of Thurston, Kathleen Kauth of Omaha, and Ben Hansen of Blair to speak before the signing.

“This is what good government looks like,” said Hansen, who introduced the abortion amendment. “...When it comes to impactful legislation that protects our children, we will do what needs to be done. Let’s make sure to not confuse ‘Nebraska nice’ with ‘Nebraska meek.’ With the passing of this bill, we have showed more that we are ‘Nebraska strong,’ ‘Nebraska brave,’ and ‘Nebraska that believes in the value of life.’”

Albrecht, who introduced the abortion bill that failed earlier in the session, became very emotional during her remarks on the abortion amendment.

“We’ve certainly had a lot of setbacks, but to see this bill all the way through general select and final reading...,” she said before concluding with her thanks to the governor and lieutenant governor “for supporting pro-life issues in Nebraska. Today is about celebrating and protecting the unborn, allowing our children to grow. And every human being has a right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. I look forward to the day when every child is protected from conception ... from elective abortions in the state.”

The governor took indirect aim at senators in the Unicameral who had spoken out against the bill, dismissing “all the other stuff that people are trying to make it out to be,” and saying the bill is “simply about our protecting kids and saving babies.”

“We enact laws simply because kids lack the necessary judgment to make the best decisions for themselves,” he said. “LB574 steps towards making sure our kids aren’t making harmful decisions that they’re gonna regret for the rest of their lives and that they’re duped by outside voices.”

But Kauth, who introduced LB574, credited the filibuster with getting the bill to ban trans youth care passed.

“The filibuster actually is what made this happen,” she said. “I doubt it was their intention, but that gave us the time to make this work, and now we will be able to let children grow.”

She said supporters of the bill had largely been ignoring the filibuster and instead using the time for discussion.

“Had they not filibustered, this bill would have been dead in February because these are three- to five-year issues. This would have been something I worked on over the interim and brought back. But because the filibuster gave us the time to talk to each other, the time to get more experts to talk to each other, the time to have more testimonies.”

Kauth called gender-affirming care a “social contagion” being inflicted on children.

“We have too many kids who are being swept up in what is a social contagion and being told their bodies are not perfect the way they are, and if they just switch their gender, they’ll be fine. Everything will be great,” she said. “That’s not true. Our kids need help. They need to know they’re perfect exactly the way they are, not the way they think they should be.”


Based on the most recent available data, Nebraska’s new ban, which prohibits abortions that are beyond 12 weeks from the woman’s last period, could impact about 10% of abortions that occur in the state. In 2021, about 53% of abortions in Nebraska occurred 6-8 weeks into the pregnancy.

Nebraska’s 12-week abortion ban is the most recent enacted in the Midwest and at the moment is the only state in the U.S. to ban abortions in that timeframe; the same limit will go into effect in North Carolina in July.

Neighboring Iowa bans abortion at 20 weeks, but the state is still arguing regarding a six-week ban that was blocked by the Iowa Supreme Court. Kansas bans abortions at 22 weeks, while Colorado has no ban on abortions, regardless of how far along a pregnancy is.

North Dakota’s governor signed a six-week abortion ban containing few exceptions last month; but the strictest abortion ban nearby is in South Dakota, which completely bans the procedure.

A few minutes after the governor signed Nebraska’s newest abortion ban into law, Vice President Kamala Harris called for a federal law to protect women’s reproductive rights saying “enough is enough” and slamming recent efforts by “extremists [sic] so-called leaders” to restrict abortion.

Digital Producer Jacob Comer contributed to this report.