LINCOLN — Nebraskans on both sides of the abortion divide are watching a new Texas law that bans almost all abortions in that state, with an eye toward similar legislation here.
The U.S. Supreme Court voted 5-4 late Wednesday night to let the Texas law stand after it took effect earlier in the day. The court did not decide the constitutionality of the law, which became the most restrictive in the country.
The law prohibits abortions once medical professionals can detect cardiac activity, usually at about six weeks and before many women know that they’re pregnant. In addition, it leaves the enforcement to private citizens, who can sue anyone involved in an abortion other than the patient.
Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts, an abortion opponent, praised the Texas law and suggested that it could be a model for Nebraska policymakers in the coming year.
“Nebraska is a pro-life state, and the Legislature and I have successfully worked together to pass life-saving laws over the past several years,” he said. “I am pleased to see the Texas law has taken effect, and we’ll be watching closely as we pull together our legislative plans with pro-life leaders here in Nebraska.”
On the other side, Andi Curry Grubb, executive director of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Nebraska, said the Texas law has no direct impact on the legality of abortion in Nebraska. But she said she anticipates attempts to pass similar “extreme” legislation in the state.
“The possibility of states, including Nebraska, moving to outlaw abortion is becoming real,” she said. “We are in a new and pretty grim era of abortion restrictions right now.”
On the national level, President Joe Biden lambasted the court’s decision and directed federal agencies to do what they can to “insulate women and providers” from the impact.
He said his administration will launch a “whole-of-government effort to respond to this decision” and look at “what steps the federal government can take to ensure that women in Texas have access to safe and legal abortions as protected by Roe.”
Biden said women should be protected from “the impact of Texas’ bizarre scheme of outsourced enforcement to private parties.”
The Texas law is the strictest law against abortion in the U.S. since the high court’s landmark Roe v. Wade decision in 1973 and part of a broader push by Republicans nationwide to impose new restrictions on abortion. At least 12 other states have enacted bans early in pregnancy, but all have been blocked from going into effect.
The Supreme Court is slated to hear arguments on one such measure, a Mississippi law banning abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. The case offers a chance for the new, conservative-dominated court to overturn or dramatically shrink the right to abortion recognized in Roe.
Nebraska currently bans abortions after 20 weeks post-fertilization, or about 22 weeks into the pregnancy as most medical professionals calculate gestation. The state also bans certain abortion methods, including the two most commonly used methods for later-term abortions.
Scout Richters, legal and policy counsel at the ACLU of Nebraska, said the court’s decision on the Texas law, while not the end of the story, shows that people cannot rely on the courts to protect the right to abortion.
“For the near future it means Texans will be unlawfully forced to carry pregnancies against their will,” she said. “Nebraskans should look at what’s happening in Texas and understand that it could happen here unless we act.
“Most Nebraskans believe that these deeply personal medical decisions belong to a patient and their doctor, not politicians,” Richters said, urging people to stand up for the right to make those decisions.
On the other side, Marion Miner, associate director for pro-life and family policy of the Nebraska Catholic Conference, said the Texas law is “yet another example that abortion is and will remain an unsettled question in our country until every human life is protected.”
Both he and Nate Grasz, policy director for the Nebraska Family Alliance, said their organizations will continue working to eliminate abortion in Nebraska.
“While litigation is likely to continue, babies with a beating heart are now protected from abortion across Texas,” Grasz said. “This is good news because a baby is a life worth protecting at all stages of development and our laws should reflect this reality.”
In the Texas case, the majority acknowledged that their action did not decide the underlying issue, saying that the abortion providers who brought the case had raised “serious concerns” about the constitutionality of the law.
But they said the “complex and novel” procedural questions raised by the unusual design of the law meant that the court could not stop it from going into effect.
Federal courts can’t stop the implementation of laws, the majority wrote, only the individuals tasked with enforcing those laws. In this case, those individuals are private citizens with the power to sue, not state and local officials bringing criminal charges, as is the case with other abortion laws.
“And it is unclear whether the named defendants in this lawsuit can or will seek to enforce the Texas law against the applicants in a manner that might permit our intervention,” the court’s decision states.
Texas’ law allows citizens to sue abortion providers and anyone involved in facilitating abortions. That would include anyone who drives a woman to a clinic to get an abortion. Under the law, anyone who successfully sues another person would be entitled to at least $10,000.
As the Texas law went into effect, clinics in neighboring states fielded growing numbers of calls from women desperate for options. Grubb said Planned Parenthood had prepared for such calls at its two Nebraska clinics, in Omaha and Lincoln. She said she does not know how many they had received.
This report includes material from the Associated Press and CQ-Roll Call.