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Sen. Pete Ricketts funds competing abortion ban petition effort


Sen. Pete Ricketts funds competing abortion ban petition effort

Apr 16, 2024 | 7:55 pm ET
By Aaron Sanderford
Sen. Pete Ricketts funds competing abortion ban petition effort
U.S. Sen. Pete Ricketts, R-Neb., speaks on the Capitol steps during the Walk for Life rally in Lincoln in January. (Aaron Sanderford/Nebraska Examiner)

LINCOLN — U.S. Sen. Pete Ricketts is bankrolling a conservative ballot effort to ban abortions in the Nebraska constitution after the first trimester, or 13 weeks of pregnancy.

Ricketts, R-Neb., gave $500,000 to the effort. He was the only donor named in the first campaign finance report of the group Protect Women and Children filed with the Nebraska Accountability and Disclosure Commission.

Sen. Pete Ricketts funds competing abortion ban petition effort
State Sen. Joni Albrecht of Thurston, a lead sponsor to further restrict abortion in 2023, at the signing ceremony for LB 574. May 22, 2023. (Zach Wendling/Nebraska Examiner)

Ricketts has supported previous efforts to put conservative measures on the ballot, including the 2015 effort to restore Nebraska’s death penalty, an effort which his family largely financed.

“Nebraska’s commonsense abortion limits reflect our state’s strong culture of life,” Ricketts said in a statement. “I support the Protect Women and Children ballot initiative because it protects Nebraska values and is a contrast to the extreme initiative the abortion lobby is pushing.”

Ricketts, Nebraska Right to Life and the Nebraska Catholic Conference backed the 13-week initiative as a competing ballot initiative to one to put abortion rights in the constitution.

Thus far, every state that has voted on measures to protect abortion rights since the Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade has adopted them, including Ohio. 

No surprise

Andi Curry Grubb of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Nebraska, which includes Nebraska, speaking on behalf of the Protect Our Rights, said “decisions about pregnancy and abortion belong to Nebraskans, not politicians.”

“From the start, it has been clear that anti-abortion groups and politicians who want to totally ban abortion will pull out all the stops to try to confuse voters and attempt to stop Nebraskans from protecting their rights this fall,” Grubb said in a statement. “This donation is just more proof of that.”

Sen. Pete Ricketts funds competing abortion ban petition effort
Ashlei Spivey of Protect Our Rights, the Nebraska group pushing to add a right to an abortion to the Nebraska state constitution, spoke about the importance of letting women and their doctors make health care decisions. (Aaron Sanderford/Nebraska Examiner)

He has said he would like to see abortion banned. 

Grubb and other abortion rights advocates with the group Protect Our Rights have warned Nebraskans that the 13-week measure would not protect abortion rights, as some seem to believe. 

They say the legal language was written to let the Legislature restrict abortion further or ban it outright. The language would not let the Legislature make the proposed abortion ban less strict.

Competing initiative

The competing ballot initiative sought by Protect Our Rights would make abortion legal up until the time of fetal viability, when a fetus can live outside the womb, based on the opinion of a medical provider. That timing is typically at 22-24 weeks.

Advocates for additional abortion restrictions have argued the change sought by Protect Our Rights would cost young lives. Abortion rights advocates say Nebraska’s current ban of 12 weeks gestational age, adopted last year, and the Ricketts-pushed proposal at 13 weeks of pregnancy both put women’s health and bodily autonomy at risk. 

Protect Our Rights reported raising $473,000 in its latest NADC report, through March 26. Much of that came as donations given by local nonprofit groups that also are donating staff time, including Planned Parenthood, ACLU Nebraska and Nebraska Appleseed. 

Both measures could make the November ballot.