Nebraska Republicans lack votes to pass 12-week abortion ban

FILE PHOTO: Republican Governor of Nebraska Pete Ricketts speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Oxon Hill, Maryland

By Gabriella Borter

(Reuters) - Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts will not convene the state legislature for a special session to consider stricter abortion laws because Republican lawmakers did not have the votes to pass a ban on abortion after 12 weeks of pregnancy, he said on Monday.

The statement by Ricketts, a Republican, comes as several other Republican-led states have grappled in recent weeks with how far to go in restricting abortion access after the U.S. Supreme Court in June overturned the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion nationwide.

Indiana on Friday became the first state to pass a new abortion ban since Roe's overturn, but Republican lawmakers there were divided over which exceptions to allow.

Nebraska currently allows abortions up to 20 weeks post-fertilization. Ricketts had expressed interest in calling a special session to further restrict abortion access, saying he would support a near-total ban with no exceptions for rape or incest.

But in his statement on Monday, the governor said only 30 state senators would support a ban on abortions past 12 weeks. The legislation requires 33 votes to pass.

Nebraska's state legislature is unicameral, meaning it only has one chamber, and is comprised of 32 Republicans and 17 Democrats.

"It is deeply saddening that only 30 Nebraska state senators are willing to come back to Lincoln this fall in order to protect innocent life," Ricketts said. “As Governor, I will continue doing whatever I can in my power to affirm the rights of preborn babies and to support pregnant women, children, and families in need.”

Nebraska state Senator Megan Hunt, a Democrat, wrote on Twitter last week that the 12-week ban proposal was part of an effort by the state's Republican leadership to seem "moderate" in comparison to the total bans that have taken effect in some 10 other states.

"Abortion is a right. Abortion is health care. And the decision about whether and when to become a parent does not belong to the government," Hunt tweeted on Monday.

The near-total ban signed by Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb on Friday prohibits all abortions except when the life of the mother is endangered, the fetus develops a fatal abnormality or the pregnancy results from rape or incest but has not advanced beyond 10 weeks of gestation.

West Virginia's legislature, also led by Republicans, is on the verge of passing a near-total abortion ban during a special session this summer. But lawmakers disagree over whether doctors who perform abortions outside narrow exceptions should face prison time.

The defeat last week of a Republican-backed Kansas constitutional amendment to restrict abortion has boosted Democrats' hopes that they can harness voter anger to prevail in competitive November midterm elections.

(Reporting by Gabriella Borter; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Josie Kao)