LINCOLN — Nebraska appears poised to follow six states since the U.S. Supreme Court reversed Roe v. Wade to vote on the future of abortion rights in its state constitution.

It also could be the first state since to give its voters competing abortion proposals on the same ballot: one amendment cementing abortion rights and one limiting the procedure.

The stakes of both amendments reaching the November ballot could be significant. Privately, both have polled well. If both pass, the one with the most votes would get into the constitution.

Protect Our Rights

Abortion-rights petition campaign Protect Our Rights said it turned in a record 207,000 signatures since its mid-November 2023 launch, the most in state history for any petition effort. They need 123,000 valid signatures from registered voters to reach the fall ballot.

The petition’s language would cement the right to an abortion in the state constitution until the point of fetal viability, which is typically between 22-24 weeks gestation.

Critics have said the language leaves too much wiggle room to medical providers to decide limits on care. Supporters say it leaves them room to address fetal anomalies and health risks and values the relationships between women and their doctors.

The group’s supporters include Planned Parenthood, ACLU of Nebraska, Nebraska Appleseed Action, I Be Black Girl, Women’s Fund of Omaha and University of Nebraska Regent Barbara Weitz.

Ashlei Spivey of Protect Our Rights, the executive director of I Be Black Girl, said the campaign is the “only initiative that trusts Nebraskans to make their own decisions” without political interference.

“Whatever the reason, it’s nobody’s business,” Spivey said, adding later, “We are super confident in what we did and what we succeeded with.”

Jasmine Smith, a mother and doula, said major hospital systems are denying women essential care and making women wait until their situations are dire before providing care.

“These decisions belong in the hands of those they directly affect,” Smith said.

Emma Poulas, a 25-year-old student studying to become an obstetrician at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, said many of her peers are deciding whether to stay in their home state.

Protect Women and Children

A competing proposed constitutional amendment backed by abortion opponents, the Protect Women and Children campaign, said it had turned in 205,000 signatures in 97 days. That’s the second-most Nebraskans have turned in.

That proposal would limit how long into a pregnancy abortion is legal, capping it at no more than 12 to 14 weeks gestational age. It would still let state lawmakers pass stricter bans.

Nebraska currently restricts abortion to 12 weeks gestational age, or about 10 weeks after conception. It tightened its restrictions most recently in 2023.

Critics call the wording of its exceptions for rape, incest and the life of the mother too vague to use. Supporters say it would maintain protections for the unborn in state law today, including parental notification requirements.

Protect Women and Children released a joint statement from doctors and supporters of its campaign saying voters “are excited to have a sensible alternative that reflects Nebraskans’ commonsense approach to limits on abortion.”

The group held signing rallies with U.S. Sen. Pete Ricketts, R-Neb., part of a coalition that includes the Catholic Conference, Nebraska Right to Life and the Nebraska Family Alliance. The campaign did not hold a news conference Wednesday.

Ricketts thanked petition signers and more than 1,200 volunteers. He said Nebraskans can choose between upholding state law enacted by elected representatives or listening to the “abortion lobby.”

Nate Grasz of Nebraska Family Alliance issued a statement saying abortion opponents are “motivated to stand up to protect women and children from the abortion industry’s extreme proposal.”

“Voters will have a clear choice this election, and the Protect Women and Children initiative reflects our state’s commitment to provide women real care and support while protecting the lives of precious baby boys and girls,” he said.

Choose Life Now

A third abortion-related proposal that got started later, Choose Life Now, sought to grant “personhood” or the legal status of a child to every embryo or fetus at all stages of development.

Critics say the language could have spurred criminal prosecutions of women who pursue abortions or miscarry. Supporters call the proposal clear about the life needing protection and say there is no need to equivocate.

Choose Life Now ballot sponsor Rose Kohl thanked her volunteers Wednesday. She said they had built a “true pro-life movement” to grant children in the womb the same rights as those outside.

“Our grass roots effort had limited funding and virtually no paid circulators,” Kohl said in a statement. “We discovered the ‘harvest is abundant, but the laborers are few.’”

Previous states sided with abortion rights

Voters thus far have sided with abortion-rights advocates in every statewide election where the issue has reached a ballot since the Supreme Court’s Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health decision in 2022.

Those elections in California, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Vermont either adopted proposals protecting abortion rights or rejected proposals for new restrictions or bans.

This year, Colorado, Florida, Maryland, Nevada, New York and South Dakota already have abortion on the ballot. Arizona, Arkansas, Missouri, Montana and Nebraska could join soon.

In Nebraska, petitions to amend the state constitution require signatures from 10% of the state’s registered voters. State and county election officials have 40 days to check them, with time allowed to transport signatures for verification.

Nebraska Examiner is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Nebraska Examiner maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Cate Folsom for questions: [email protected]. Follow Nebraska Examiner on Facebook and Twitter.