Nebraska Abortion Rights Groups Gather Enough Signatures to Advance Ballot Measure

Nebraska Abortion Rights Groups Gather Enough Signatures to Advance Ballot Measure

A proposed amendment to enshrine access to abortion care in the Nebraska Constitution moved closer to appearing on the ballot in November after a coalition of reproductive rights advocates submitted the required number of valid signatures to state officials. Protect Our Rights, the group leading the ballot effort, announced it had collected the signatures of more than 207,000 registered voters — significantly more than the approximately 123,000 needed to move forward with the process of getting its proposal on the ballot.

The group also fulfilled a requirement under state law that the total includes at least 5% of registered voters in 38 of the state’s 93 counties. This requirement had been viewed as a particularly difficult hurdle for abortion rights groups in the state. A disproportionate number of Democratic voters in solidly red Nebraska live in just a handful of counties surrounding Omaha and Lincoln; only two of the state’s 93 counties voted for President Joe Biden in 2020.

The Nebraska Secretary of State’s office confirmed that the group surpassed the signature requirement. The office has until Aug. 12 to verify the submitted signatures and until Sept. 13 to certify the measure for the November ballot.

The measure proposed by Protect Our Rights — a coalition that includes Planned Parenthood North Central States and the American Civil Liberties Union of Nebraska — would enshrine abortion rights in the state constitution up until fetal viability, or about the 24th week of pregnancy. The proposal includes exceptions beyond that time for a woman’s life and health.

“As mothers, doctors, families, concerned citizens and people navigating pregnancy, we were united in the belief that patients and providers should have the freedom to make their own health care decisions, not politicians,” Ashlei Spivey, a member of Protect Our Rights’ executive committee, said at a news conference Wednesday.

She added: “We believed that people should be treated with compassion and have privacy to decide if and when they have to make the deeply personal decision to have an abortion. We also believe that health care providers should not be criminalized and forced to delay care or put their patients’ lives at risk because of extreme restrictions and political interference. We believed and knew that people across the state felt the same.”

Currently, abortion is illegal in Nebraska after the 12th week of pregnancy, with exceptions for rape, incest, and saving the mother’s life. If voters pass the proposed amendment, it would effectively undo that law.

Nebraska is one of 11 states where organizers are seeking to enshrine abortion rights in state constitutions. Measures are officially on the ballot in Maryland, New York, Florida, South Dakota, and Colorado. Organizers in Arizona submitted signatures to state officials for their effort earlier Wednesday.

In the two years since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, voters in several states — including California, Michigan, and Ohio — have approved ballot measures ensuring abortion rights. Organizers in Nebraska, however, still face some obstacles before November.

Opponents of the ballot measure still have several weeks to challenge signatures. Importantly, a second effort with a competing measure regarding reproductive rights could complicate the path forward for the pro-reproductive rights effort.

That effort, supported by anti-abortion groups including the Nebraska Catholic Conference and Nebraska Right to Life, seeks to put to voters a proposed constitutional amendment that would ban abortion after the first trimester except in situations where the abortion is “necessitated by a medical emergency or when the pregnancy results from sexual assault or incest.”

Anti-abortion groups working to advance that measure said its organizers submitted more than 205,000 signatures, more than the required amount, to state officials Wednesday.

A third effort, launched by a group of individual anti-abortion activists, seeks to amend the state constitution by adding a personhood clause stating that “a preborn child at every stage of development is a person.” If passed, that would effectively ban all abortion care and would likely affect fertility treatments like in vitro fertilization. That effort did not submit the required number of signatures ahead of the deadline, the Nebraska Secretary of State’s office said.

Abortion questions will officially be on the ballot in several states, such as Florida and Maryland, this fall. A handful of abortion-rights supporters have until the summer to collect signatures for initiative petitions. Until then, anti-abortion groups in several states have launched campaigns to persuade residents to “decline to sign” petitions that could protect abortion rights in state constitutions.

Opposition groups in Colorado, Florida, and Nebraska went so far as to craft their own proposed constitutional amendments. The efforts in Colorado and Florida failed to gather enough signatures by secretary of state deadlines, but the Nebraska petition has a similar name to the abortion-rights petition and seeks to allow abortion until the first trimester, even though the state already has a 12-week ban.

In South Dakota, lawmakers passed a bill this spring that allows endorsers to withdraw petition signatures. Montana is the only state without a clear anti-abortion petition group. But abortion-rights supporters only received clearance to start gathering signatures last month, Daily Montanan reported.

Here’s a look at the various anti-abortion ballot measure campaigns ahead of July deadlines:

Arkansas — Stronger Arkansas opposes abortion, education, and marijuana petitions whose leaders are affiliated with Republican Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders. Arkansas Advocate reported that the state Right to Life group is also encouraging residents to decline to sign an abortion-rights petition, which could allow abortion up to 18 weeks of fertilization or later for rape, incest, fetal anomalies, or to protect a “female patient from physical disorder, physical illness or physical injury.” Abortion is illegal in the state unless there’s a medical emergency.

Arizona — The It Goes Too Far campaign launched in January to encourage residents to reject a proposed constitutional amendment that would restore abortion access up to fetal viability and beyond to protect a patient’s life or health, Arizona Mirror reported. The Center for Arizona Policy, which opposes abortion, backs the counter-effort. Amidst uncertainty over the state’s abortion laws following a high court ruling that upheld an 1864 near-total abortion ban — Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs signed legislation Friday striking the law down — organizers behind the abortion rights petition have collected more than 500,000 signatures.

Missouri — A group called Missouri Stands with Women led the “decline to sign” campaign in the state, where all abortions are illegal, save in the case of a medical emergency. Missourians for Constitutional Freedom, which is pushing a fetal viability petition bid with exceptions, just submitted more than 400,000 signatures for the effort. Abortion rights opponents at the Midwest March for Life rally last month told Missouri Independent they’ll file open records requests to get copies of the signatures and probe the petitions. There have been some 140 requests for signatures withdrawals so far, per the Independent.

Nebraska — The Protect Women and Children Constitutional Amendment, launched in March, would ban abortion after the first trimester with exceptions for rape, incest, and medical emergencies, according to Nebraska Examiner. But the state already has a similar ban in place that the legislature enacted last spring. Still, Nebraska’s major anti-abortion groups and Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America endorsed the new petition. Meanwhile, Protect Our Rights is circulating a petition that would allow abortion up to fetal viability with exceptions in certain circumstances.

Nevada — A few weeks ago, the state Supreme Court ruled that an abortion-rights petition could move forward, Nevada Current reported. Nevadans for Reproductive Freedom initially crafted a broader initiative that was rejected by a judge after anti-abortion group Coalition for Parents and Children PAC sued over the petition. The approved, truncated version would allow for government interference after fetal viability but allow the procedure later in pregnancy to preserve a patient’s life or their physical or mental health.

South Dakota — Republican Gov. Kristi Noem signed legislation in March that lets residents withdraw their signatures from petitions, South Dakota Searchlight reported. GOP Rep. Jon Hansen sponsored that proposal. Hansen is also the co-chair of the Life Defense Fund, the group leading a “decline to sign” effort against a petition that would allow abortion up until the first trimester. The Fund has a signature withdrawal form readily available on their website and funds another site called Take Off My Name.

Source: NBC News, Daily Montanan, Arkansas Advocate, Arizona Mirror, Missouri Independent, Nebraska Examiner, Nevada Current, South Dakota Searchlight

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