Hannah Michelle Bussa
Abortion advocates met online Friday to discuss the state of reproductive freedom in Nebraska in light of the new anti-abortion law in Texas.
Abby Johnson, a storyteller and abortion advocate through Planned Parenthood Advocates of Nebraska, started the conversation by discussed her own experience.
She shared her story of trying to access abortion care when she lived out of state but was on her parent’s health insurance. The insurance did not cover elective abortions. She ended up having a miscarriage, a “spontaneous abortion,” which was covered by the insurance.
She said years later, she looked into the law that was passed that banned insurances from covering abortion. She read the transcripts.
“I was interested in how that legislature gambled with my health, gambled with my life, and my reproductive health,” she said. “I was surprised to see that—despite a couple fighters—for the most part, they weren’t talking about real people, about practical things.”
Johnson moved back to Nebraska in March. She shared her story at a judiciary hearing on Senator Hunt’s abortion bill.
“There are so many stories to tell—and so many ways in which the laws that we have in our state are affecting our reproductive health and future and families,” she said.
Andi Curry Grubb with Planned Parenthood Advocates of Nebraska spoke next.
“Abortion remains safe and legal in Nebraska,” she said. “But the reality is that we’re in a new era, in which the right to abortion is at risk in our country like never before. I wish that was an exaggeration—it’s not an exaggeration.”
She discussed the law in Texas and the upcoming case in the United States Supreme Court that is challenging Roe v. Wade. If Roe v. Wade is weakened, abortion rights will be determined by state law.
“That really paves the way for extreme state politicians to ban abortion,” she said.
She said this leads to health inequities. Nebraskans need more access to care and information, including access to contraception, sex education and access to abortion.
“Most Americans—including Nebraskans—believe all people should have the freedom to make our own healthcare decisions, without any interference from politicians,” she said.
She said state protections for abortion access ensure every person, regardless of zip code, have access to the care they deserve.
“We assure that Planned Parenthood will always stand up for our patients and our communities,” she said. “It’s up to us to fight back in this new era of attacks on reproductive rights.”
Ashlei Spivey, Director of I Be Black Girl, spoke next. I Be Black Girl is a collective that supports Black women, femmes and girls. They focus on justice at the intersection of race and gender. Reproductive Justice is one of their focuses.
“When thinking about our role in this conversation, and this movement, it’s really important to understand that we deserve a city, community and state that honors our rights and don’t limit our access, choice and decision-making in any area, especially that of healthcare,” Spivey said.
She said people tend to discuss abortion as a binary, “good or bad,” thing, but fundamentally, that doesn’t matter. This is about the government being involved in personal choices. Abortion access is part of reproductive justice and healthcare options.
“Legislation in Texas and the threat of similar legislation in Nebraska is an overreach of our government,” she said. “We know that Black women, Black birthing folks and other women of color will be disproportionately affected by this type of infringement on our rights.”
Scout Ritchers from the ACLU of Nebraska next discussed the legal ramifications of this kind of legislation.
“The decision on whether to keep or end a pregnancy is a deeply personal decision, and 50 years of Supreme Court precedent have really made clear that the decision belongs to the patient, the doctors and their families,” she said.
Ritchers said Texas’ law is unconstitutional and has caused states like Nebraska to entertain similar bans.
“Courts have long held [this choice] should be in the hands of patients, not the government, and not citizen-bound hunters,” she said.
Citizen-bound hunters references the Texas legislation in which private citizens can sue others if they think they have had, or have helped someone get an abortion.
“Governor Ricketts has even said that he is pleased with the extreme ban and that he expects that it will inspire legislation right here in Nebraska, so we need to be clear that this fight is coming to Nebraska,” she said.
The United States Supreme Court did not overturn Roe v. Wade. Ritchers said their unwillingness to halt the Texas ban at this stage, however, makes it clear that this could happen easily here in Nebraska.
Ritchers said that while the Texas case is now in further litigation, such as the Department of Justice lawsuit, Texans are still not able to access the care they need.
“The takeaway is that, even if we get a favorable decision on related litigation down the road, nine Supreme Court Justices cannot be an effective backstop for laws that violate our rights—especially those that were written, as was the case in Texas, to get around judicial intervention,” she said.
Ritchers said Nebraskans need to focus on stopping similar bans in the Nebraska Legislature.
“More than any moment in recent history, it’s critical that Nebraskans urge their state senators to stop the bans and start respecting that Nebraskans have a constitutional right to make their own choices about abortion care,” she said.
State Senator Megan Hunt spoke next. While she represents District 8, she said she feels like she represents everyone in Nebraska when it comes to reproductive justice.
Hunt said Nebraska senators have been introducing proactive legislation on reproductive health.
“We don’t always want to be on the defense, we want to be introducing things that are proactive in helping people get the care that they need,” she said.
She discussed two bills she introduced in the last session. One bill was to repeal the ban on telemedicine abortion access. Another bill was to require emergency rooms and hospitals to provide information on emergency contraception, and administer it to assault survivors if they choose it. Some hospitals are not currently providing this, primarily due to religious reasons.
“I will continue to work on legislation like this,” she said. “I will continue to be a fighter against bad legislation.”
Hunt discussed that the Texas law is bringing the United States back to a time where people will be forced to make difficult decisions, and abortion access will have to rely on word of mouth. She said this could have lasting impacts on generations of Nebraskans to come.
“We talk about wanting to build our economy in Nebraska,” she said. “We talk about wanting to attract and retain talent. Well, I can tell you, young professionals don’t want to live in a state where they can’t get reproductive healthcare.”
Hunt said lawmakers in Nebraska hear the most from a vocal minority.
“They show up to every hearing,” she said. “They sign letters, they contact their representatives, and they’re the ones standing outside of our offices during session. So, even though they don’t represent a majority of Nebraska’s values, they have assembled so much power because they’re the only ones that politicians see. So that’s why it’s really important that Nebraskans mobilize and demand policies that align with our values and expand access to affordable, high-quality, reproductive healthcare—and that includes abortion care.”
Hunt said the reproductive healthcare champions in the legislature will continue to work toward proactive legislation that addresses reproductive justice, racial justice, class issues and workers’ rights, because these issues are interconnected. She expects anti-abortion politicians in Nebraska will continue to push the agenda in response to the Texas law as well.
“This is also why redistricting really matters right now,” she said. “We have to make sure that we keep the numbers of allies in the Legislature to fight back against these bills.”
Hunt said most people support the right to safe, legal abortion.
“We have to speak up before it’s too late,” Hunt said.
This conversation was followed by a Q&A session.
Spivey said reproductive justice and healthcare includes Black maternal health. She said trans, nonbinary and folks across the gender spectrum need to be included in this conversation as well.
“We know from polling that most Nebraskans actually do support the idea that once a woman makes a decision, there shouldn’t be this political interference in that decision,” Ritchers said.
The speakers listed a number of action steps for those wanting to speak up and get involved on this issue.
Hunt said it is worth it to contact State Senators who may not agree, and to contact the Judiciary Committee as well. She said it is best to call or email State Senators, not use the online comments on specific bills.
Spivey said I Be Black Girl and the Women’s Fund of Omaha have toolkits for contacting State Senators as well as templates for emails and resources.
Watch the full livestream here.