The American Civil Liberties Union is suing the state of Nebraska after lawmakers passed sweeping legislation that combined abortion restrictions with a bill targeting gender-affirming care for transgender youth.
Opponents have argued that the measure unconstitutionally merged two unrelated measures into one, running afoul of a state constitutional provision that prohibits legislation from containing more than one subject.
A lawsuit was filed in state court on 30 May by the ACLU and the ACLU of Nebraska on behalf of Planned Parenthood of the Heartland and the chief medical officer of Planned Parenthood North Central States.
Nebraska’s abortion restrictions – an approximate 10-week abortion ban – went into effect on 23 May. The law also directs the state’s chief medical officer – who was appointed by the Republican governor – to draft the rules for how young trans people and their families can access nonsurgical affirming healthcare.
The legal challenge comes one week after Republican Governor Jim Pillen signed the bill into law during a ceremony where he compared healthcare for young trans people to “Lucifer”.
“We believe in protecting our kids, making sure that they – parents and kids – don’t get duped into the silliness that ‘If you do this, you’re going to become happy,’” he said on 22 May. “That is absolutely Lucifer at its finest.”
After an epic filibuster that blocked a gender-affirming care ban for nearly three months and successfully killed a proposed ban on abortion care at six weeks of pregnancy, state lawmakers in Nebraska’s unicameral legislature this month broke through the legislative blockade and approved a measure that combined elements of both.
The extraordinary maneuvers in the smallest legislative body in the country drew national attention, as lawmakers across the United States consider similar bills targeting abortion rights and LGBT+ people.
Proponents of Nebraska’s bill anticipated a legal challenge, as the state’s constitution prohibits legislation that combines unrelated measures under a so-called “single subject” rule: “No bill shall contain more than one subject.”
Mindy Rush Chipman, ACLU of Nebraska interim executive director, said Nebraska senators’ “failure to adhere to the single subject requirement was a rushed process that circumvented critical legislative guardrails.”
“The bottom line is that senators do not get to pick and choose which constitutional requirements they will follow when making laws,” she added.
Ruth Richardson, CEO of Planned Parenthood North Central States, told reporters during a briefing on Tuesday that the law breaks through those constitutional guardrails in an “egregious overreach” of lawmakers’ abilities.
Dr Sarah Traxler, an abortion provider and chief medical officer of Planned Parenthood North Central States, told reporters that state lawmakers showed a “complete disregard for the health and bodily autonomy they purport to serve.”
“I’m appalled at this is where we are today,” she said.
The anti-abortion component has had an immediate effect, leaving patients “confused as to whether they can receive abortion in the state, scared, and afraid to tell people closest to them that they are pregnant,” Dr Trexler said.
“People now have to travel and find the money, time off work and childcare necessary to receive the critical care they deserve,” she said. “We are operating at capacity.”
Chelsea Souder, founder and director of Nebraska Abortion Resources, said the organisation has seen an increase in patients forced to leave the state to seek legal abortion care in states as far as Illinois and Minnesota. “We are in this for the long haul and we are not giving up on Nebraskans,” she said.
Nebraska’s office of attorney general has 30 days to respond to the complaint. The ACLU also is seeking emergency injunctive relief to temporarily block the law while the legal challenge plays out, to which a judge can respond at any time.