Nebraska Sued Over Law Restricting Abortion and Gender-Affirming Care

Planned Parenthood in Omaha Pride parade
Planned Parenthood in Omaha Pride parade
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A Planned Parenthood affiliate and a Nebraska doctor have sued the state over its recently enacted law banning most abortions after 12 weeks as well as banning some gender-affirming procedures for transgender youth.

Legislative Bill 574 was signed into law by Republican Gov. Jim Pillen last week. The abortion ban went into effect immediately, and the restrictions on gender-affirming care will be in force October 1. The legislation bans gender-affirming surgery for people under 19 for the purpose of gender transition — genital surgery being rare for young people anyway — and gives the state’s chief medical officer, appointed by the governor, the power to regulate use of puberty blockers and hormones.

The measure violates the Nebraska constitution because it deals with two different subjects, according to the lawsuit, filed by Planned Parenthood of the Heartland and Sarah Traxler, MD, chief medical officer for Planned Parenthood North Central States. They are represented by the American Civil Liberties Union and its Nebraska affiliate.

The constitution states, “No bill shall contain more than one subject, and the subject shall be clearly expressed in the title.” But in the case of LB 574, the abortion ban was added as an amendment to the gender-affirming care restrictions when separate abortion legislation failed to pass.

“The single-subject rule prevents logrolling, namely, the passage of legislation that, if standing alone, could not muster the necessary votes for enactment,” the suit says. It continues, “The single-subject rule also promotes transparency in the legislative process and accountability by lawmakers. When a bill contains one subject, no senator can credibly claim that a vote for (or against) that bill was meant to support (or oppose) only part of it. When a bill contains more than one subject, it is impossible to know whether the lawmaker’s vote signaled support for (or opposition to) the entire bill, or just some of it.”

The suit was filed Tuesday in Lancaster County District Court, a state-level trial court in the county that includes Lincoln, the state capital. Pillen is named as a defendant, along with Dannette Smith, chief executive officer of the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services; Charity Menefee, director of the DHHS’s Division of Public Health; and Timothy Tesmer, the chief medical officer. It seeks both to have the law struck down and to have it blocked from enforcement while the suit is pending.

In the suit and in a press conference Tuesday, representatives of Planned Parenthood, the ACLU, and Nebraska Abortion Resources called the law egregious overreach by politicians. They said Nebraskans are already having difficulty with access to abortion, given that there is a national shortage in rural areas of doctors who provide this care. Patients often have to wait several weeks for an appointment, and Nebraskans are now often traveling to neighboring states such as Iowa, Minnesota, and Illinois for the procedure. But many can’t afford the travel cost, time off work, or child care they would need while away from home.

“I’m appalled that this is where we are today,” Traxler said in the press conference.

On gender-affirming care, legislators and activists who opposed LB 574 had said any regulations Tesmer issues on hormones and puberty blockers will likely be as restrictive as the outright ban originally proposed in the bill but ultimately dropped. ACLU of Nebraska attorney Jane Seu said Tuesday that’s not possible to know for sure until the regulations come out. But Tesmer was appointed by Pillen and has said he opposes all gender-affirming procedures for minors.

LB 574 passed when supporters in Nebraska’s one-chamber, officially nonpartisan legislature put together enough votes to overcome a filibuster. Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh had filibustered every pending bill in an effort to block the gender-affirming care ban, and she was eventually joined by others, including Sen. Megan Hunt, a bisexual woman with a transgender son, and Sen. John Fredrickson, a gay man.

Pillen, contacted by local media, declined comment on the suit. The Nebraska Republican Party contended that the ACLU had not brought action against other legislation that violated the single-subject rule.

Pictured: Planned Parenthood marches in the Heartland Pride Parade in Omaha.