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A Bittersweet Victory as Nebraska Bans Dismemberment Abortions
Sandy Danek | 03 September 2020
On August 13, the Nebraska Legislature passed LB 814, which prohibits the gruesome second-trimester abortion procedure known as dilation and evacuation (D&E). By a vote of 33-8, the nation’s only Unicameral and Nonpartisan State Legislature became the thirteenth state1 to ban what is more commonly known as dismemberment abortion in Nebraska. On the same day, Governor Pete Ricketts issued a proclamation extolling the merits of Nebraska Right to Life’s longtime executive director, Julie Schmit-Albin, who was in hospice at the time. Julie succumbed to cancer nine days later, on August 22, 2020, one day before her 64th birthday.
Senator Suzanne Geist (District 25) of Lincoln introduced the legislation in January and chose it as her priority bill. Twenty-one state senators signed on as co-sponsors, with another four signing on later. Even though just over half of Nebraska’s legislators were co-sponsors, the bill's passage was an uphill battle. The Judiciary Committee held the bill in committee after the hearing, making it necessary for Senator Geist to file a pull motion, a rarely used rule that allows a bill to be brought to the floor for debate by a majority vote. Once on General file, the measure passed its first vote on August 5 by a 34-9 vote.2 Pro-life senators withstood three filibusters while maintaining focus on the unborn child and the dignity of life to bring it to a final vote to pass the bill.
The Governor subsequently signed the bill into law on August 15, the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary for Catholics. During a rally on the Capitol steps, Ricketts told the enthusiastic crowd of hundreds that “Nebraska is a pro-life state, and this week the Legislature took an important step to strengthen our culture of life.” The Governor commended Senator Geist for introducing the bill. “This brutal procedure has no place in a humane, civilized society.” Senator Geist said she was honored to carry the bill and thanked everyone who prayed and called legislators.3
In D&E abortions, a living unborn child is ripped limb from limb with forceps until he or she dies because of blood loss, division of the spinal cord, or crushing of the skull. As in the Gonzales v. Carhart decision (2007), where the Supreme Court upheld a ban on partial-birth abortions,4 the court will likely uphold a ban on the heinous act of dismemberment abortions. At the behest of State Senator Ernie Chambers, Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson released an opinion concluding that LB 814 is "likely constitutional" because it does not appear to impose a substantial obstacle on abortion access in Nebraska."5 A dismemberment abortion is typically performed between 13-24 weeks’ gestation.
Opponents challenged the law's constitutionality, stating it places an undue burden on women seeking a second-trimester abortion. However, the reality is that abortionists are only prohibited from performing the brutal method of dismemberment abortion. In 2019, there were six dismemberment abortions in Nebraska, out of 181 total second-trimester abortions (3%). In 2018, there were 32, out of a total of 178 (18%), and in 2017, there were 21, out of a total of 133 (16%). 6
The suction-curettage procedure, which is performed in the first trimester and early in the second trimester (up to 16 weeks), is the most common abortion procedure used in Nebraska. After 16 weeks gestation, the “dilation and extraction” (or D&X) method, in which the abortionists causes "fetal demise" of the child before removing the body from the mother, is the most used abortion procedure. It is performed nine times more often than dismemberment abortion procedures, so the argument of "undue burden” is not thought to be credible.
The ban on dismemberment abortion makes it a Class IV felony punishable by up to two years in prison and/or a fine of $10,000. It also provides a provision for an abortionist to be sued should they violate the law. Under the present law, the woman having the procedure will not be charged or held liable.
Unfortunately, this law is not without its critics within the pro-life movement who claim that banning dismemberment abortions is more symbolic than substantive. One complaint is that politicians can purport to be "pro-life" without truly being committed. Critics argue that like the ban on partial-birth abortion, this ban will not directly save lives. However, even though there is no guarantee lives will be saved, the brutality of the procedure necessitated that we bring the legal practice of this horrific procedure to an end.
Nebraska Right to Life Board member, Chuck Conrad, points out, “Over the years, the abortion industry has embraced colorful terms like "choice," "freedom" and a “right to choose.” They are masterful at hiding the reality of any abortion procedure. Most Nebraskans were totally unaware this abortion method existed, much less that it was legal so the educational value cannot be underestimated.”
Dr. Kathi Aultman, a former abortionist, delivered eye-opening testimony before the Nebraska Judiciary Committee during the hearing on LB 814 in February. “There is no medical reason that the baby has to be alive at the time this procedure is done unless you're trying to get fresh fetal tissue for research.7 During the seven months from the time this legislation was introduced through its passage, many Nebraskans were educated about the brutal nature of this procedure, revealing the vile nature of abortion and the callous practices of the abortion industry. It is certainly the hope of Nebraska Right to Life members that this legislation will have an impact on ending the extraction of fetal tissue for organ trafficking.
The Nebraska Right to Life Board is thankful that under Julie Schmit-Albin’s tutelage for the past 31 years, Nebraska Right to Life has been instrumental in Nebraska remaining a pro-life state. Julie was the driving force behind dozens of pro-life bills, including the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act (2010), a first of its kind in the nation, Parental Consent, Informed Consent, Human Cloning Prohibition Act, Mother’s Right to See Her Unborn Child Ultrasound, Webcam Abortion Ban, and the Abortion Pill Reversal Act. The pro-life laws she worked to enact in Nebraska are a testament to her resolve and legacy. We are thankful that Julie lived to see LB 814 enacted into law. We are also grateful for the lives that were saved because of Julie’s lifelong commitment and leadership in advancing the pro-life movement.
[1 ] National Right to Life State Director, Ingrid Duran, testified before the Nebraska Legislature’s Judiciary Committee Hearing on February 2, 20, 2020 that twelve other states have already banned the dismemberment abortion procedure: Kansas, Oklahoma, West Virginia, Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, Arkansas, Texas, Kentucky, Ohio, North Dakota and Indiana.
 Unicameral Update, Bill to ban abortion procedure advanced after successful cloture vote, August 5, 2020.
 Catholic News Service, Governor Signs Bill That Bans Dismemberment Abortions, Updated August 17, 2020. https://www.catholicnews.com/nebraska-governor-signs-bill-that-bans-dismemberment-abortions/
 Gonzales v. Carhart, 550 US/ (2007). In this landmark U.S. Supreme Court Decision, the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban of 2003 was upheld.
 Omaha World Herald, Ricketts expected to sign bill banning abortion method after Nebraska Legislature passes measure, August 13, 2020 https://omaha.com/news/state-and-regional/govt-and-politics/ricketts-expected-to-sign-bill-banning-abortion-method-after-nebraska-legislature-passes-measure/article_d7553dfe-47de-5411-970a-b52be062b6b1.html#:~:text=Earlier%20this%20week%2C%20Attorney%20General,are%20done%20using%20other%20methods.
 Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services Abortion Statistical Report
 Dr. Kathi Aultman, former abortionist, Testimony on LB 814 delivered during the Nebraska State Legislature Judiciary Committee Hearing, February 20, 2020
Sandy Danek, Acting Director, Nebraska Right to Life
Sandy and her husband, Richard, are the parents of five adult children, and nine grandchildren. Sandy joined the pro-life movement as an office volunteer in the Nebraska Right to Life office in the fall of 1989, just months after Julie Schmit-Albin took over as Executive Director in March of that year. Sandy went on to serve on both the Lincoln Right to Life and Nebraska Right to Life Boards. Julie requested that Sandy serve as cantor at her funeral mass. On one of their last visits, the two close friends shared a moment of levity as they planned the music for the service. Sandy said, “I feel like we’re planning another pro-life event.” Without missing a beat, Julie responded, “I know what I want, and I want to make sure it’s done right.”