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Nebraska GOP Passes Combo Ban on Youth Gender-Affirming Care and Abortion

GOP lawmakers used a secret tunnel to exit the state Senate chamber to avoid confrontation with protesters of the bill.

An aerial photograph of the state capitol in downtown Lincoln, Nebraska.

On Tuesday, Republican lawmakers in Nebraska’s unicameral legislature successfully advanced a bill that would ban gender-affirming care for transgender youth in the state, attaching an amendment that would also implement a 12-week abortion ban.

Debate over the bill was contentious, and its passage came despite loud protestations from hundreds of demonstrators who gathered in the state capitol to voice their opposition.

LB 574 bans gender-affirming care for Nebraskans under the age of 19, including “any medical or surgical service…or prescribed drugs” that can aid a person in their transition. The amendment on abortion bans the procedure after the 12th week of pregnancy, except in cases where a person’s life is at risk or in documented cases of rape or incest.

Even though the ban makes exceptions in cases where a person’s life is endangered by their pregnancy, similar bans have restricted pregnant people across the country from being able to treat serious health complications that could arise in the second and third trimesters of their pregnancy. Doctors have expressed concern that the vagueness of the Nebraska ban makes it unclear how serious a health complication must be before they can act in order to save a person’s life.

During debate on the bill, Democrats accused Lt. Gov. Joe Kelly (R), who serves as president of the state legislature, of thwarting legislative standards in order to move the measure forward. Procedural moves made the process of advancing the bill last several hours longer than usual.

Republicans were eventually able to secure the 33 votes necessary to overcome a filibuster and move toward a final vote, which could happen as early as Thursday. The bill will likely be passed and signed into law by Republican Gov. Jim Pillen.

After the vote on Tuesday, Republicans snuck out of the legislative chamber through a secret tunnel to avoid being confronted by the crowd, a move that was condemned by Democrats.

“Shame on you who are devising escape routes out of here. If you can’t go out there and face the people you are hurting, then you are not worthy of this job,” said state Sen. Megan Hunt (D).

Republicans, meanwhile, claimed on the Senate floor before their departure that Democrats had “incite[d] a mob of hundreds” to the building — despite the fact that the protestors were entirely peaceful.

Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh, a Democrat who spent several weeks filibustering every bill in the session to block Republicans from passing anti-trans and anti-abortion bills, warned that the legislation would result in people’s deaths, echoing phrasing used by Montana state Rep. Zooey Zephyr weeks prior.

“Women will die, children are dying, and you are responsible. You will have buckets and buckets of blood on your hands,” Cavanaugh said.

National medical associations and countless medical experts agree that gender-affirming care for transgender youth is beneficial and can often be life-saving. Elizabeth Constance, an assistant professor of Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility at the University of Nebraska Medical Center who has conducted research on transgender hormone therapy, has said that Republicans’ anti-trans proposals are not rooted in science.

“Honestly, I think they come from a place of not wanting or trying to understand an experience that’s different from one’s own … and that’s frustrating,” Constance said in March to Omaha-based NBC News affiliate WOWT.

She added:

Twenty-nine medically specialty organizations have best practice guidelines supporting the use of gender-affirming care in the appropriate population. And so when legislators step in and try to say they can better analyze that data than the specialist in those fields — the people who have trained decades to read and analyze and interpret that literature — is honestly disingenuous.

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