LINCOLN — Cheers and chants rang through the Capitol Rotunda on Tuesday as more than 350 people gathered to defend abortion rights.
The rally was part of a national day of action organized in response to a wave of Republican-controlled states passing strict new limits on abortion.
An Alabama law would permit abortions only if the mother’s life is at risk or the fetus cannot survive. Georgia and Ohio banned abortions after a fetal heartbeat can be heard, typically about six weeks, and Missouri passed a law banning them at eight weeks.
Former State Sen. Brenda Council of Omaha led off the gathering, calling the new laws an assault on women’s reproductive rights and an attempt to put government in control of their bodies.
“It’s a basic human right to maintain body autonomy,” she said.
Kacie Ware of Omaha said the right to autonomy proved critical to her 14 years ago, when she was 16 years old and was impregnated by a 31-year-old man.
She knew immediately, she said, that she wanted an abortion. But to get one, she had to navigate numerous legal and social hoops, from getting a judge to waive the requirement of notifying her parents to having to walk past protesters outside the abortion clinic.
“I love abortion,” she said. “I am grateful I was able to access the care I needed.”
The biggest cheer of the day was for Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha, who has consistently fought anti-abortion legislation. He exhorted the crowd to carry the momentum into the voting booth. Politicians expect that activism will die down and people will go back to being complacent, he said.
“If you don’t vote, then today is in vain,” he said.
Chambers also referred to the number of abortion restrictions passed by Nebraska lawmakers, who meet in a chamber off the Rotunda: “Today you are in the belly of the beast, and you should give it indigestion.”
Tuesday’s rally took place before state lawmakers were slated to renew debate about another abortion measure.
Legislative Bill 209, sponsored by Sen. Joni Albrecht of Thurston, would require that women seeking medication abortions be told that they may be able to continue their pregnancy if they change their mind before taking the second of the two pills used.
Sen. Megan Hunt of Omaha called the measure “the canary in the coal mine” for an attempt at banning or severely restricting abortion in Nebraska. Last week, Gov. Pete Ricketts tweeted his admiration for the Alabama law.
The rally drew some counterprotesters, who held up signs saying “Remember the Unborn” and “Defund Planned Parenthood.”
Planned Parenthood sponsored the Lincoln gathering, along with the American Civil Liberties Union of Nebraska and the Women’s Fund of Omaha.
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