Sen. Suzanne Geist of Lincoln announces her introduction of Legislative Bill 814, which would prohibit dismemberment abortion during the second trimester of pregnancy. The bill was introduced Jan. 8, the first day of this year’s 60-day legislative session. COURTESY PHOTO

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Catholics urged to help ban brutal abortion procedure

One particular method of abortion – called “dismemberment abortion” – has been described as “brutal,” “barbaric,” “gruesome,” “inhumane” and “immoral.”

The procedure removes an unborn child from the womb of the mother in pieces by grasping and tearing off body parts, ultimately causing him or her to bleed to death.

Nebraska’s three Catholic dioceses are supporting legislation that would ban dismemberment abortion, known medically as dilation and evacuation (D&E), during the second trimester of pregnancy.

The proposed ban is among the bills the dioceses and their bishops, working together through the Nebraska Catholic Conference (NCC), will promote during the state’s 2020 legislative session, which kicked off earlier this month.

Another is a school choice bill, picked up from last year’s session, that would allow tax credits for donations to school scholarship funds, in hopes of making a private education more affordable for families.

DISMEMBERMENT ABORTION

LB814, introduced by State Sen. Suzanne Geist of Lincoln, would make performing a dismemberment abortion a Class IV felony for abortion providers, punishable by up to two years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

Mothers undergoing the abortion would not be penalized.

Marion Miner, associate director for pro-life and family for the NCC, said dismemberment is a particularly cruel abortion method. After a woman’s cervix is dilated, forceps or other instruments are used to grasp a living preborn child and pull him or her out of the womb piece by piece.

“It’s a brutal thing,” he said. “It’s not a pleasant thing to talk about.”

The fetus “is very recognizable as a human at this point,” Miner said.

Geist, who introduced the bill on Jan. 8, the first day of the 60-day legislative session, said she intends to make the measure her priority bill. Twenty-one senators co-sponsored the bill at its introduction, and more have signed on as co-sponsors since then.

Geist said abortion is a “very contentious” issue in the Legislature and across the nation. But she’s hoping that the narrow scope of her proposal and the uneasiness many people have toward the dismemberment process would make the ban agreeable to more senators.

UNCOMMON AND COMMON

The proposed ban would affect a limited number of abortions. In 2018, D&E abortions accounted for just 1.5 percent of the abortions in Nebraska, 32 of the 2,078 abortions, according to state statistics.

In previous years, as many as 186 dismemberment abortions have been performed.

The D&E method is common during the second trimester, though, often being performed between the 13th and 24th weeks of gestation, when a baby develops fully formed arms, legs and facial features and the ability to swallow, yawn, hiccup and smile.

During the second trimester, the procedure is the second most common one used in Nebraska, and the most common method nationally, Miner said.

The brutality of the procedure should be something Nebraskans can agree on, Geist said.

“I really believe that people, no matter what their beliefs and thoughts are on abortion, that we can all agree that this type of procedure should not happen.”

The proposed ban on dismemberment abortion could face a tough battle, Miner said, but it’s chances are better than when a similar ban was sought in 2016. Former Sen. Tommy Garrett of Bellevue introduced that bill.

EXPECTED OPPOSITION

Geist said she believes she has the support of a majority of senators, but 33 votes are needed to break an expected filibuster.

That’s what happened last year to a pro-life bill that required notifying women seeking a medication-induced abortion that the procedure could be reversed. The measure survived the filibuster and was signed into law by Gov. Pete Ricketts.

State Sen. Megan Hunt of Omaha is leading an effort this session to repeal the notification law, but Miner sees the chances of a successful repeal as “slim to none.”

Meanwhile, Geist will be trying to persuade senators who might be on the fence about the dismemberment ban.

“That’s going to be my mission for the next few weeks,” she said.

Senators new to the Legislature since 2016 have created a different political climate, where they are willing to deploy more nontraditional methods to advance the bill, Miner said. And the pro-life senators are committed and willing to fight, he said.

“I’m going to have a difficult time getting 33 votes,” Geist said. “But I really think it’s possible. With the makeup of the body and the narrow nature of this bill, I think it’s possible.”

If the bill is approved, legal challenges could follow. But Geist said she thinks the ban could survive a lawsuit, based on the successful ban of partial birth abortions, which are also “particularly barbaric.”

Geist and Miner urged people to contact their senators and ask them to support the bill.

SCHOOL CHOICE

A scholarship tax credit bill, similar to one debated by the Legislature last year, would allow more families to choose the education they want for their children, said Tom Venzor, executive director of the NCC.

The measure would allow state income tax credit for donations to nonprofit organizations that provide scholarships to students who want to attend private or parochial elementary and secondary schools. There would be caps on the amount of the tax credits available to taxpayers. There would be an overall cap on the program of $10 million.

Last year Elkhorn Sen. Lou Ann Linehan introduced the measure, which wasn’t able to survive a filibuster.

School choice measures, including tax incentives for scholarship donors, continue to gain ground in Nebraska and across the country, Venzor said.

Eighteen other states, including Nebraska neighbors Iowa, South Dakota and Kansas, offer tax incentives similar to those being proposed for Nebraska, he said. They have saved states money and allowed more than a half million students, primarily from low-income families, to gain access to private education, he said.

Opposition to school choice measures has been strong in Nebraska, Venzor said, but “we have gained incredible amounts of traction in the last few years.”

“It’s almost a David and Goliath story, but we have made huge steps forward, and the momentum is in our favor.”

The proposal wouldn’t “take a dime from public schools,” Venzor said.

In states where scholarship tax incentive packages have passed, they have grown and flourished, he said. “It’s just common-sense policy and everybody wins.”

Nebraska proponents have scheduled a Jan. 29 school choice rally at the state Capitol as part of a National School Choice Week. It will be 11 a.m. to noon in the Warner Chamber of the Capitol.