Floor debate for controversial ‘Heartbeat Bill’ begins

Floor debate for controversial ‘Heartbeat Bill’ begins
Published: Apr. 12, 2023 at 4:57 PM CDT|Updated: Apr. 12, 2023 at 6:26 PM CDT
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LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) - State senators heard the hotly contested ‘Heartbeat Bill’ for the first time on the legislative floor Wednesday.

If passed, the bill would prohibit performing or inducing an abortion when a heartbeat could be detected on an ultrasound, which is usually around the six-week mark.

LB 626 was introduced by Northeast Nebraska Senator Joni Albrecht at the start of the session. She has made it her priority bill.

“It’s about one thing, protecting babies with beating hearts from abortion,” Albrecht said. “Before performing an abortion, a physician must perform an ultrasound to check for a fetal heartbeat.”

The bill was introduced to prevent abortion after the detection of a heartbeat except in cases of sexual assault, incest, or to save the life of the mother.

Opponents have said the bill is too restrictive towards professionals providing care and threatens a woman’s autonomy.

“I don’t think a lot of people in this room would be willing to give up their ability to have a choice over very important decisions for their lives, their body, their autonomy, and their freedom just to not have regrets,” said Lincoln Senator Anna Wishart.

“Inserting ourselves in the decision making, the private decisions between a woman and their healthcare provider is not a decision I should be making,” said Omaha Senator Tony Vargas.

Proponents argue a heartbeat is a universal sign of life and should be protected.

“I am very sure ‘the least of these’ would be that baby growing and developing safely tucked inside its mother’s womb,” Omaha Senator Kathleen Kauth said. “That baby has no defense, only its mother to protect him or her.”

Both sides of the debate rallied inside and outside of the capitol building. Those in opposition wore green in the rotunda. Those in favor gathered outside on the capitol steps.

“We, without question, have an overwhelming majority of people that are 100% pro-life and believe in babies’ rights to live,” said Governor Jim Pillen who was at that rally.

Opponents have filed a flurry of amendments and motions, one of which aims to postpone discussion on the bill indefinitely.

Wednesday, Senator Megan Hunt introduced a separate motion to postpone the bill; the decision on that is still pending.

There has also been debate surrounding an amendment that was introduced to move the ban to 12 weeks, instead of six.

Nebraska currently has an abortion ban in place after 20 weeks gestation.