Abortion rights advocates

Abortion rights advocates and lawmakers are seen rallying at the Nebraska State Capitol. The state Legislature voted down a proposed six-week abortion ban on April 27, 2023.

(Photo: @JohnforNE/Twitter)

As GOP Fears Political Backlash, Stricter Abortion Bans Falter in Nebraska, South Carolina

Republicans in Nebraska and South Carolina declined to support strict bans as some GOP lawmakers urge the party to reconfigure its anti-choice efforts—while remaining staunchly pro-forced pregnancy.

Reproductive justice advocates applauded late Thursday as state legislatures in Nebraska and South Carolina voted against advancing and passing two abortion bans—unexpectedly protecting the right to abortion care in the two red states for the time being.

The votes were cast as some Republicans have expressed unease over the potential political consequences of its assault on reproductive rights, even as much of the GOP remains committed to banning abortion nationwide.

Republicans in the Nebraska Legislature failed to advance to the final round of debate a bill that would have banned abortion care in most cases. The party, which holds 32 seats, needed a supermajority of 33 to end debate to overcome a filibuster, but it fell one vote short as two lawmakers declined to cast a vote.

The bill is unlikely to move forward for the remainder of this year's legislative session, even as Republican Gov. Jim Pillen pleaded with one of the non-voting state lawmakers, Sen. Merv Riepe (R-12), to file a motion to reconsider the bill.

Riepe told the Flatwater Free Press that he had come to the decision to block passage of the six-week ban based on "my own beliefs, my own commitments," but his proposal of an amendment that would have extended the ban to 12 weeks and included an exception for fetal anomalies made clear that he is still committed to forcing Nebraskans to carry unwanted pregnancies.

The Republican warned his colleagues that pushing a six-week ban could harm the party's chances of winning upcoming elections, pointing to his own narrow win after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last year.

As The Associated Pressreported Thursday, "in a four-person race, [Riepe] emerged with about 45% of the vote in the May primary and was a whopping 27 points ahead of his nearest contender. But after the Supreme Court's decision in June striking down Roe, his margin of victory in the general election against that same challenger—a Democrat who made abortion rights central to her campaign—dropped to just under five percentage points."

Riepe is among a number of Republicans who have hesitated to go along with the party's strategy regarding forced pregnancy in the wake of the Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization decision that overturned Roe.

Voters in traditionally red states including Kansas and Kentucky have resoundingly rejected Republican attempts to restrict access to abortion care in the past year, and earlier this month a right-wing judge lost a key Wisconsin Supreme Court election after his Democratic opponent campaigned on a platform focused heavily on protecting abortion rights.

Dozens of U.S. House Republicans told CNN last week that they were reluctant to push for a 15-week federal abortion ban that Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) introduced in the Senate last year, saying the issue should be taken up by the states. Former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, a Republican who is running for president in 2024, called abortion rights "a personal issue" at a campaign event in Iowa earlier this month and also said the states should make decisions about bans and restrictions.

U.S. Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.) struck a similar tone to Riepe's earlier this week when she toldABC News that her party will "lose huge" if it continues to pursue state abortion bans that apply to the earliest weeks of pregnancy—but has expressed approval for bans later in pregnancy.

The Senate in Mace's home state on Thursday rejected a bill that would have banned most abortions in South Carolina, with exceptions for pregnancies that result from rape and incest only before 12 weeks.

Three Republican women joined the other two women in the Senate, a Democrat and an independent, in rejecting the bill, a move that gave South Carolina residents a "temporary reprieve," Vicki Ringer, director of public affairs for Planned Parenthood South Atlantic, toldThe Washington Post.

The state Senate has already passed a six-week ban, which the state House may still take up before the legislative session ends next week.

The reproductive justice collective Sister Song credited rights advocates in South Carolina with pressuring the Republican lawmakers to vote against the ban.

Currently, abortion care is permitted in both South Carolina and Nebraska until about 22 weeks of pregnancy.

Scout Richters, senior legal and policy counsel at the ACLU of Nebraska, said advocates still have "significant work to do to safeguard abortion rights in Nebraska" as state Republicans including Riepe continue to support strict bans and many federal lawmakers continue to back a national ban.

"Even as we celebrate today's victory, we recognize the vote should not have been this close," Richters said Thursday. "From the hundreds of Nebraskans who showed up to testify on this bill to the calls and emails flooding the Capitol, it is beyond clear that most Nebraskans support legal access to abortion, and it is past time that state senators' votes reflect that reality... We will continue doing all we can to ensure that decisions about our lives, bodies and futures stay with Nebraskans and their medical providers, not politicians."

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