ACLU files lawsuit over new Nebraska abortion, trans youth care law
The lawsuit alleges the law violates the state Consitution on single-subject legislation.
LINCOLN, Neb. (WOWT) - Arguing that the bill signed into law last week instituting a 12-week abortion ban as well as restrictions on trans youth care violates the state Constitution on single-subject law, the ACLU has filed a lawsuit challenging its legality.
LB574, the bill to ban gender-affirming care for minors — which sparked ongoing filibusters from opponents throughout the session — was passed by Unicameral earlier this month along with its attached 12-week abortion ban, AM1658.
“It was logrolling — and never should have happened,” said Mindy Rush Chipman, interim executive director of the ACLU of Nebraska. “If you have to put subjects together in order to garner support — that is exactly not what our constitutional framers intended. They wanted things to be clear, whether they’re talking about legislators who are voting on it, or community members voting on a ballot issue.”
The American Civil Liberties Union and ACLU of Nebraska filed the lawsuit Tuesday in Lancaster County, the crux of which centers on Article 3 of the state Constitution: “No bill shall contain more than one subject, and the subject shall be clearly expressed in the title.”
They are also seeking a court order to block the law.
“Today’s filing follows a hurried legislative effort to enact new limits on abortion access and gender-related care,” the ACLU of Nebraska said in a news release.
The organizations are representing Planned Parenthood of the Heartland and Dr. Sarah Traxler, its regional chief medical officer who also provides abortions.
When asked about the lawsuit, the Nebraska Attorney General’s Office told 6 News:
“We will defend the law.”
The AG has 30 days to formally respond to the lawsuit, but the judge assigned to the case can issue a preliminary injunction at any point.
Planned Parenthood says the 12-week ban — down from 20 weeks — is already impacting patient care.
“Nebraskans are already being harmed under this dangerous abortion ban that was pushed through the Legislature using unprecedented tactics. We are already having to inform patients that they will be unable to get the critical health care they need in Nebraska, and we only expect to see that number grow. We will do everything in our power to restore what should be a fundamental right to bodily autonomy. Nebraskans deserve the right to make private health care decisions that are best for them, their families, and their futures — not politicians, who now have more control over our bodies than we do. And we will not stop until Nebraskans have that right today and for generations to come.”
The single-subject debate isn’t new.
In 2020, the Nebraska Supreme Court threw out a medical marijuana ballot petition for violating the single-subject rule in the Constititution. The argument from the justices was essentially that growing and consuming medical marijuana was more than one subject and therefore unconsititional for being combined.
“Although both components of LB 574 took away Nebraskans’ freedoms, ultimately we are talking about two entirely unrelated subjects: gender-related care for trans youth and abortion access. We believe the combination of those bans violated the clear text of our state’s constitution. And the end result of senators’ failure to adhere to the single subject requirement was a rushed process that circumvented critical legislative guardrails. The bottom line is that senators do not get to pick and choose which constitutional requirements they will follow when making laws. We look forward to making our case as litigation progresses.”
Gov. Jim Pillen signed LB574 last week 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.
The ban on gender-affirming surgeries for those younger than age 19, the age of consent in Nebraska, goes into effect Oct. 1. 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.
In its response to the signing of LB574, 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.
“Politicians have made our work unnecessarily harder, but our doors are open and we’ll keep doing everything we can for patients and communities,” Ruth Richardson, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood North Central States, said in a statement last week.
Nebraska Medicine re-affirmed its opposition to LB574 following last week’s 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 has previously 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.
ABORTION IN THE MIDWEST
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 recently 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.
This is a developing story. Stay with 6 News for updates.
Reporter Brian Mastre contributed to this story.
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