Conservatives in the Nebraska legislature have combined a ban on abortions after 12 weeks of pregnancy with restrictions on gender-affirming care in a bill that could come to a final vote Thursday after breaking a filibuster.
Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh has led an effort to filibuster every bill in the one-chamber, officially nonpartisan legislature in order to block the proposed ban on gender-affirming care for transgender youth. She and her allies, including Sen. Megan Hunt, are outraged at the latest move.
“You are willing to drive this state into the ground. You look ridiculous,” Cavanaugh told her colleagues Tuesday, according to the Associated Press. “Women will die, children are dying, and you are responsible.”
She added, “You will have buckets and buckets of blood on your hands,” echoing a remark that Montana Rep. Zooey Zephyr had made as her legislature debated a ban on gender-affirming care, which eventually passed. Zephyr was barred from the Montana House floor for telling colleagues they would have blood on their hands if they voted for the ban.
Debate in the Nebraska legislature Tuesday was raucous, “with several points of order made and motions to overrule the chair,” the Omaha World-Herald reports. There were also efforts to end debate on motions from Cavanaugh “when only a handful of lawmakers had the chance to speak,” the paper notes.
Hunt, a bisexual woman and mother of a transgender son, joined Cavanaugh in expressing outrage.
“Yesterday, we witnessed unprecedented procedural maneuvers that eroded the respect for our institution,” she told The Advocate via email. “It is apparent that my colleagues have not only disregarded the norms and rules that have long guided our deliberative process but have shattered them with a brazen disregard for the consequences. The very essence of democracy lies in mutual respect and adherence to established protocols that ensure fair and inclusive governance. The actions of certain members have undermined this foundation, fueling a toxic atmosphere of partisanship and personal gain.”
The proposed ban on gender-affirming care has taken a different form from the one originally introduced, but opponents say it could still do great harm. The original bill would have banned puberty blockers, hormone treatment, and gender-confirmation surgery for anyone under 19, although genital surgery is almost never performed on minors. The new legislation would ban only surgery but would allow Nebraska’s chief medical officer to regulate the use of puberty blockers and hormones.
That officer, Timothy Tesmer, was appointed by Republican Gov. Jim Pillen and has said he opposes all gender-affirming procedures for minors, so putting the power in his hands would likely result in a policy as restrictive as the one Sen. Kathleen Kauth proposed in the first version of Legislative Bill 574, possibly more so, according to Hunt and other opponents.
On abortion, Nebraska currently bans the procedure after 20 weeks of pregnancy. The proposal to ban it after 12 weeks comes after legislation to prohibit it after six weeks of pregnancy failed. Abortion would still be allowed if a pregnancy results from rape or incest, or if it is life-threatening.
The merged bill received 33 votes of support Tuesday, just enough to overcome the filibuster. In Nebraska, legislation must go through multiple votes to pass, and a final vote is expected Thursday. Pilsen has said he will sign the measure, which would go into effect immediately.
Members of the public protested the legislation Tuesday, filling the capitol with chants of “One more vote to save our lives; you can’t defeat our human rights!” The chants caused Hunt to tear up at one point.
When the day’s work ended, Hunt and Cavanaugh walked out arm in arm and received cheers, according to the World-Herald. Supporters, however, left through back hallways and met up with state police to avoid protesters.
Hunt included a critique of that action in her comments to The Advocate.
“The relentless pursuit of political victories at the expense of the greater good has become the modus operandi, leaving no room for constructive dialogue or compromise,” she said. “It is disheartening to witness the erosion of decorum and the erosion of the principles upon which our legislature was built, jeopardizing the trust of the people we serve. We must remember that our duty is to represent the interests of all Nebraskans, and in doing so, we must reclaim the values that have guided our institution for generations.”
The lawmaker said that her Republican colleagues need to listen to the Nebraskans who have called out what she said was a "discriminatory and hateful attack on our most inherent rights."
“It is our duty to be accountable to the people who have placed their trust in us to protect their interests. We cannot continue to allow senators to stifle the voice of the people by limiting participation in committee hearings to hypocritically and arbitrarily applying legislative rules to hiding from the people by scurrying out of the capitol via tunnels to avoid facing the consequences of their votes," Hunt said. "It is incumbent upon us, as legislators, to set aside partisan interests and prioritize the welfare of the people we serve. By truly listening to the diverse perspectives of our constituents, we can foster a stronger democracy that upholds the rights and values of all Nebraskans.”
(Above images: Sens. Megan Hunt and Machaela Cavanaugh)