News Abortion

In the the Reddest of Red States, One Legislator May Turn the Tide on Anti-Choice Legislation

Robin Marty

Nebraska, the home of the "fetal pain" movement, may be surprisingly abortion-restriction free in 2013.

Nebraska started the ball rolling when it came to initiating the so-called “fetal pain” 20 week abortion bans. Yet heading into 2013, there is a strong possibility that legislation that further restricts abortions may not have as much play as it has in the past few years.

Nebraska has been a favorite for anti-choice activists to try out new initiatives because of its unicameral legislature. With only one chamber, there are fewer politicians to persuade, committees to bypass, or places for bills to get modified or amended.

But there is a downside to that single legislative chamber as well: with so few people creating and debating laws, it’s much easier for one person to hijack a bill and keep it from a vote.

Enter Ernie Chambers.

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As a child growing up in Nebraska, Senator Ernie Chambers was one of the few names I knew in local politics. That says less about my own political savvy and more about the bombastic, passionate, headline-grabbing antics of the state’s most radically left-leaning legislator to hit the unicameral floor. Chambers has spent decades in office, sitting out the last four years after hitting a term limit, while Senator Brenda Council held the seat. The term limit amendment was introduced almost entirely with the purpose of removing Chambers from the legislature, even if just for a short period of time.

He’s a force to be reckoned with, and has even been called the “second House” in the unicameral because of political prowess at revamping and blocking bills he doesn’t support. He is also a legend when it comes to advocating for social justice, especially when it comes to civil rights issues, including reproductive rights.

How big of a change is the return of Chambers? Nebraska Right to Life is already toning down their plans for 2013, knowing that Chambers is likely to derail every bill they press. Julie Schmit-Albin of Nebraska Right to Life told the Omaha World Herald that the group “made hay while we had sunshine,” in reference to all of the bills pitched during his four years off. “He’s an obstructionist, particularly on pro-life bills. He’s not going to let anything through easily.”

Chambers coming back to the legislature isn’t likely to keep the anti-choice legislation off the floor completely, but will definitely play a role in how bills are presented at the very least.  Nebraska Right to Life has already learned that lesson, presenting their plan to revamp the state’s “right to know” website as a way to “better help women” rather than the obvious attempt to emotionally manipulate them into continuing a pregnancy.

Would the first 20-week ban have ever passed the unicameral with Chambers still in office. Probably. But it would most defininitely have been a debate to watch.

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