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Straight Talk From Steve: The Heartbeat Omnibus Bill

Last week the South Carolina State Supreme Court upheld that state's new law banning abortions after the sixth week of gestation. Bill's which ban abortions after the sixth week are known as heartbeat bills because that is when a baby's heartbeat is normally first detected. Writing for the majority, Justice John Kittredge said that while the new law infringes on a woman's right of privacy and bodily autonomy, the South Carolina Legislature had reasonably determined this time that "interest of the unborn child to live" outweighs the interest of the mother. I wholeheartedly agree.

After the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last year, decisions about abortion were returned to the individual states. Several states, including Nebraska, introduced legislation this year further restricting abortions. Earlier this year the Nebraska State Legislature passed a bill, which lowered the threshold on legal abortions from 20 weeks of gestation down to 12 weeks of gestation. The original version of the bill (LB 626) was a heartbeat bill, which called for a six-week ban on abortions, but it failed to advance. For a while it looked like the bill would never pass.

Because of the constant filibustering of bills this year by a small minority of Senators in the Unicameral Legislature, State Senators began amending their bills into other bills, creating what are called omnibus bills or Christmas tree bills. That is what happened to the heartbeat bill. The contents of the heartbeat bill were amended into LB 574 with AM 1658, changing the threshold from six weeks to 12 weeks. LB 574 is known as the Let Them Grow Act, a bill which prohibits physicians from performing gender altering procedures on individuals under the age of 19, and that bill passed on a vote of 33-15. This action of amending the heartbeat bill into LB 574 is what is now being challenged in the courts.

One week after Gov. Pillen signed LB 574 into law on May 22, 2023 the ACLU of Nebraska sued the State of Nebraska on behalf of Planned Parenthood and requested a temporary injunction to prevent the new law from being enforced. The argument presented by the ACLU was that the omnibus bill or the Christmas tree bill that was created by amending the contents of the heartbeat bill into LB 574 violated Article III, Section 14 of the Nebraska State Constitution. That section of the constitution says, "No bill shall contain more than one subject..." In other words, the ACLU argued that the two bills address two distinct and separate subjects. For example, Mindy Rush Chipman, the executive director of the ACLU of Nebraska recently said that "State senators combined unrelated restrictions into a single bill in their rush to take away Nebraskans' rights."

The 12-week abortion ban has now survived the first round of appeals in the courts. On August 11 the District Court dismissed the lawsuit and ruled in favor of the omnibus bill or the Christmas tree bill known as LB 574. Lancaster County District Court Judge, Lori Maret, ruled that combining the two bills did not violate the single subject rule contained in the Nebraska State Constitution because all of the regulations contained within the bill fall under the general category of health care.

Following the District Court's decision, the ACLU of Nebraska immediately filed an appeal to the Nebraska Supreme Court, who will have the final say in the matter just as the South Carolina Supreme Court settled the matter once and for all for the residents of South Carolina last week.

How the high court rules on this case could have enormous ramifications for Nebraskans. If the high court sides with the lower District Court, abortions will be banned after the 12th week of gestation. However, if the high court decides that the single subject rule was violated, then all of the other omnibus bills or Christmas tree bills that the Legislature has passed would be in jeopardy of also being declared unconstitutional.

Finally, I would like to express my utter disgust and contempt for last week's arrest of our former U.S. president, Donald J. Trump. The arrest was made for purely political reasons. Trump has never been convicted of a crime, has never gone to jail, and it has never been shown that he stole an election. The arrest was intentionally made one day after the Republican presidential debate in order to publicly humiliate him and to allow the media to broadcast his mug shot all over the USA and all around the world. It is past time for Republicans to speak out on this matter and to condemn this two tiered system of justice, which targets political opponents for purely political purposes. If they can do this to Donald Trump, then they can also do this to us.


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