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Proposed ‘personhood’ amendment would outlaw almost all abortions in Nebraska


Proposed ‘personhood’ amendment would outlaw almost all abortions in Nebraska

May 21, 2024 | 6:18 pm ET
By Aaron Sanderford
Proposed ‘personhood’ amendment would outlaw almost all abortions in Nebraska
Petition circulators are working in Nebraska to crowd the November ballot. (Montinique Monroe/Getty Images)

LINCOLN — Signature gatherers for and against Nebraska’s abortion restrictions soon will have company from circulators of a third ballot initiative on the issue.

With six weeks until signatures are due, a group of anti-abortion activists is circulating petitions for a state constitutional amendment outlawing elective abortions.

The Now Choose Life petition would grant separate “personhood” under the law to embryos and fetuses in a mother’s womb. The law would treat them like a child that has been born.

Organizers, including Rose Kohl of Omaha, said many abortion opponents were upset with voters’ likely options on the November ballot. They want neither a full nor partial embrace of abortion rights.

Protect Our Rights, Protect Women and Children

Kohl describes the first effort, the Protect Our Rights push to enshrine abortion rights in the Nebraska Constitution, as radical because it prohibits even existing restrictions. The group supporting that proposal advocates for reproductive rights and has said it wants to leave medical decisions between women and their doctors.

Kohl describes the petition by Protect Women and Children as an effort aimed at protecting abortion in the first trimester. The group proposing that amendment opposes abortion. It has said its amendment would ensure that abortions could not take place later in a pregnancy than current law allows. It has acknowledged that its language leaves room for the Legislature to restrict abortion further.

That amendment has received much of its financial backing from U.S. Sen. Pete Ricketts and other abortion opponents.

“I think the middle one is terrible,” Kohl said. 

Instead, her group proposed language that mirrors personhood laws adopted in  Alabama, Georgia and Missouri, including some that have put in vitro fertilization at risk.

Kohl said more than 93% of abortions take place in the first trimester.

‘Life starts at conception’

“Ours says life starts at conception,” she said. “It would make elective abortions 100 percent banned … by recognizing what was already true, that a preborn person is a person.”

The petition language includes no exceptions for rape, incest or medical emergencies to protect the life of a mother. She said such language isn’t needed because a mother “is a person.”

The Secretary of State’s Office approved the petition language late last week. The group has six weeks to gather the 123,000 signatures, or 10 percent, of registered voters required to place the measure on the November ballot.

“The Secretary of State said it has never been done in six weeks,” Kohl said. “If we do it, it’s an act of God.”

Allie Berry of Protect Our Rights said the latest petition effort “is the end goal for anti-abortion groups and politicians: totally banning abortion care.”

“Nothing about this new effort changes our plans and our goal,” she said. “We are staying focused on getting our initiative in front of voters so that Nebraskans can make their own decisions about pregnancy and abortion with compassion and privacy, without political interference.”