Letter to the Editor

LB1109: Want-to-be-mothers and fatal fetal anomalies

Tuesday, February 20, 2024

There exists a group of women who desire to carry their pregnancies to term but discover a non-viable fetus, a Fatal Fetal Anomaly, often not until the midpoint of their pregnancies. These women are those I term “Want-to-be Mothers.” This presents a dilemma in Nebraska, where access to a medical abortion in such circumstances is limited. Women may find themselves in a situation similar to Kate Cox, a mother in Texas who had to leave the state for a medical procedure to safeguard her reproductive ability and health.

However, not all women have the means to travel out of state for this necessary medical procedure. My 2024 priority bill, LB1109, seeks to address the needs of this group.

LB1109 improves upon the current law (LB574), which limits elective abortions to 12 weeks — eight weeks fewer than the previous Nebraska law prior to the Dobbs Supreme Court decision. LB1109 allows for exceptions up to 20 weeks post-fertilization in the event of a Fetal Fatal Anomaly. A Fatal Fetal Anomaly, in this context, refers to a condition that, with the diagnosis and opinion of two doctors, will, regardless of the provision of life-saving medical treatment, result in the death of a preborn child upon birth or inevitably thereafter.

Although a difficult reality to acknowledge, there are indeed situations where organs do not develop correctly or are lacking entirely, due to a variety of congenital or environmental factors. It is important that we look at these situations with not only empathy, but also understanding of the reality.

Experiencing a lost pregnancy is heart-wrenching and involves difficult decisions, but these decisions should be made in private by mothers, fathers, and physicians—not dictated by state government. It is not our place to prescribe how a mother should best cope with the realization that her baby will, statistically, not survive.

It is crucial that we delineate a clear distinction between abortions that are electively sought and those that are justified for medical reasons. Currently, elective (“by choice”) abortions are permitted up to 12 weeks post-gestation, the first trimester. Abortions sought for medical reasons (such as rape or incest) are permitted up to 20 weeks post-fertilization, with exceptions made in cases where it is necessary for the preservation of the mother’s life.

Furthermore, LB1109 removes a Class-IV felony for violations of the 12-week law when following the 20-week law, as well as a Class-III felony. Nebraska law already includes numerous statutes addressing this situation and those who may act with malice, to the point of excessive and arbitrary redundancy. Imagine a situation where each time an inadvertent error occurs at your workplace, there’s a possibility of facing felony charges, and you aren’t exactly sure about how the rules will be interpreted.

I earned my controversy: to paraphrase the Associated Press, I am the “Nebraska lawmaker who tanked an effort last year by [my] fellow Republicans to pass a near-total abortion ban.” I have been called nearly every name in the book, received threats, have had protestors outside of my church, and had my face plastered on a billboard over a busy street in Omaha.

But I have also been thanked innumerable times by individuals from across Nebraska, including those who publicly proclaim themselves as exclusively pro-life.

We find ourselves in the difficult position of trying to balance the difficult emotional and moral considerations of abortion against its time-tested place in society and the medical/legal justifications thereof. I attempted last year, during the heated legislative debate, to include further protections for our medical professionals who chose to operate in this space, but fell short in pursuit of hastened compromise. I regret not having held my ground last year, and have introduced and prioritized LB1109 as my continued effort to assure that abortion, as a medical procedure, is appropriately available in Nebraska.

While there is a petition circulating to expand elective and medical abortions and enshrine the right to abortion in the Nebraska Constitution, my aim today is not to urge you to sign or refrain from signing this petition, nor to influence your vote on the matter. LB1109 safeguards the rights of expectant mothers and presents a reasonable alternative when coupled with the current 12-week elective abortion limit. LB1109 is slated for consideration on February 22nd by the Judiciary Committee, and I encourage you to reflect earnestly on this issue. If you support the protection of women’s health, please reach out to your state senator and ask them to back LB1109.

— State Senator Merv Riepe, LD12, 40-year hospital administrator and member, Health & Human Services Committee.

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