Hearing on proposed abortion ban draws hundreds to Nebraska State Capitol

LINCOLN, Neb. (KLKN) — The two sides of the abortion debate clashed at the State Capitol on Wednesday as a committee heard testimony on a proposed abortion ban.

Hundreds of Nebraskans flooded the halls.

A member of the Legislature staff said the turnout for the hearing was the most for any bill in recent memory – all to talk about a topic that many are passionate about.

“Under the Nebraska Heartbeat Act, before performing an abortion, a physician must perform an ultrasound to listen for a fetal heartbeat,” Sen. Joni Albrecht, who introduced LB 626, told the Health and Human Services Committee. “If the heartbeat is detected, performing an abortion is unlawful except in cases of rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother.”

Right now in Nebraska, abortions are legal up to 20 weeks into pregnancy.

This bill would effectively ban abortions as early as cardiac activity can be detected in the womb, usually around six weeks.

Doctors who perform an abortion after that point could lose their medical license.

Those in support of the bill say a heartbeat is a universal sign of life.

“Anyone who denies that an unborn child is alive and has a beating heart is blatantly ignoring the science,” said Dr. Tara Sander Lee, a clinical research scientist. “Does the fact that a toddler or teenager, the fact that they do not have a fully formed brain mean that they are any less human? Of course not. So it is with the heart.”

But opponents said many women may not know they are pregnant that early.

“Most people are not going to have any clue until they are at least 4 to 5 weeks in,” said Dr. Emily Patel, an OB-GYN. “And that’s if they’re really tracking, they have very normal cycles, and there are no other abnormalities. And that’s not how the body works; it’s not always the case.”

Again, the bill does have certain exceptions, such as cases of rape, incest or when the mother’s life is in danger.

Sens. Jen Day and Machaela Cavanaugh, both of Omaha, are on the HHS Committee.

They raised concerns on how the legislation might cause doctors to deny women necessary health care for fear of getting in trouble with the law.

“This bill will turn hospital rooms into conflicts, conversations belonging between a doctor and a patient and her family into legal consultations at the potential cost to patient care and safety,” said Dr. Jennifer Griffin, an OB-GYN.

But perhaps the most emotional testimony on both sides came from women who have first-hand experiences that gave them the courage to testify.

“I sit here today as a 29-year-old woman who remembers that day like it was yesterday,” said Haile Kucera, a supporter of the Heartbeat Act who went through an abortion. “I still feel tears well in my eyes when I think about what a terrific mom I would have been … While I can’t turn back the clock, I can look forward to supporting the Nebraska Heartbeat Act. No woman should have to be put through what I went through that week.”

Shannon Vaccaro had difficulties with pregnancy. She testified in opposition to LB 626.

“I heard the words expecting parents fear the most: ‘I’m sorry, there is no heartbeat,'” Vacarro said. “Our state Legislature has no right to come between the decisions made between women and their providers. Each pregnancy is nuanced, difficult and deeply personal. Please allow them to stay that way.”

The committee is expected to vote on the bill as early as next week.

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