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Nebraska Republicans Drop Proposed Abortion Ban Because They Don't Have the Votes

Lawmakers were three votes shy of passing a 12-week abortion ban—for now, at least.

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Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts
Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts.
Photo: Gwyneth Roberts/Lincoln Journal Star via AP (AP)

After the Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade, conservative-controlled states have been weighing whether to hold costly special legislative sessions to further restrict or even outright ban abortion now that the federal guardrails have fallen. (The alternative is simply waiting until 2023 to pass their laws.) On Monday, Nebraska determined there isn’t enough of an appetite for government-forced births to call lawmakers back to the capitol, in a temporary reprieve for residents of the Midwest state.

Nebraska currently bans abortion after 20 weeks and has a slew of other restrictions, but Republican lawmakers had proposed a ban after 12 weeks, which is before the end of the first trimester. The state has a unicameral (one-body) legislature made up of 49 state senators and, as of Monday, only 30 state senators had signed on to the bill. The legislation would need 33 votes in order to break a filibuster.

Republican State Senator and Speaker Mike Hilgers sent a letter to Gov. Pete Ricketts (R) this afternoon informing him that the bill only had 30 supporters. Minutes later, Ricketts said there would be no special session on abortion. (Past special sessions have cost the state about $10,000 a day, and it takes a minimum of seven days to pass a bill, per the Nebraska Examiner.)

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It’s all still very close for comfort. A trigger law that would have totally banned abortion if Roe fell failed by two votes during this year’s regular session. (Again, the more “permissive” 12-week ban failed by three votes.) And 24 of the legislature’s 49 seats are up for election this November, so the outcome this fall could determine whether lawmakers can take up the bill in 2023. In his statement, Ricketts urged Nebraskans to contact their senators if they hadn’t signed on to the legislation and noted that the letter “shows that elections have consequences.”

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Overturning Roe also has consequences. Nebraska borders Kansas, a state where voters resoundingly rejected an effort to remove constitutional protections for abortion last week. From a New York Times analysis of the 18-point winning margin in Kansas: “Many voters might previously have seen the stakes as theoretical: If the U.S. Constitution protected abortion rights, how much did it really matter whether the Kansas Constitution did? But then the Supreme Court undid the first part of that equation.”

It’s much easier for lawmakers and regular voters to support abortion bans when they know they’ll never go into effect. After weeks of seeing the dangerous and demeaning post-Roe fallout, it’s a different calculus entirely.