LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Nebraska lawmakers were expected to begin a second round of debate Thursday on a bill that would ban abortion once cardiac activity can be detected in an embryo, which generally occurs around the sixth week of pregnancy and before most women know they're pregnant.
Supporters advanced the so-called heartbeat bill from the first round of debate earlier this month with only a one-vote margin to break a filibuster. The bill must survive Thursday’s debate and a final round to pass, but the effort in the Republican-controlled state remains in question. Yet to be considered is an amendment introduced by a Republican co-signer to the bill that would extend the proposed ban to 12 weeks.
The amendment and reports of support for it by some lawmakers who voted for the bill earlier this month could signal that a ban set very early in pregnancy may face pushback even from those who want further abortion restrictions.
The bill makes specific exceptions for ectopic pregnancies, IVF procedures, and allows for the removal of a fetus that has died in the womb. It also does not ascribe criminal penalties to either women who receive or doctors who perform abortions. Instead, it would subject doctors who perform abortions in violation of the measure to professional discipline, which could include losing their medical licenses.
Nebraska Gov. Jim Pillen, a Republican, has been a vocal proponent of the bill and has said he will sign it if it passes.
Nebraska has the only single-chamber, officially nonpartisan legislature in the United States. But each of its 49 lawmakers identifies as Republican or Democrat and tends to propose and vote for legislation along party lines. Republicans hold 32 seats, while Democrats hold 17 seats. Although bills can advance with a simple majority, it takes a supermajority — 33 votes — to end debate to overcome a filibuster. So a single lawmaker breaking from the party line could decide whether a bill advances or dies for the year.
The close divide played heavily in the defeat last year of a so-called trigger bill that would have automatically banned nearly all abortions in the state, even those resulting from rape and incest, as soon as the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, which had guaranteed the right to abortion nationwide for nearly five decades. That bill fell two votes short.
In the vote to advance the abortion bill earlier this year, Sen. Mike McDonnell, a Democrat, voted with Republicans. His reason, he said, is that he is a devout Roman Catholic who has always campaigned as an anti-abortion candidate.