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On May 2, in a truly unprecedented event, a draft decision on the Dobbs v. Jackson U.S. Supreme Court case was leaked to the public. If that opinion becomes final, it will strike down Roe v. Wade and set back fundamental rights in this country by half a century. It’s important to note this is not yet an official ruling—but in Nebraska, we should prepare for the worst.
If this leaked opinion becomes official and Roe is overturned, it will be up to each individual state to determine whether women have the right to an abortion. Under our current law in Nebraska, abortion will remain legal until 20 weeks, with exceptions for life endangerment or severely compromised health.
However, that could change very quickly. Soon after the Supreme Court ruling becomes official, the Nebraska Legislature will convene for a special session and once again, try to pass a total ban on abortion in our state. Though the legislature successfully blocked a bill to ban abortion this year, we didn’t protect the right to abortion in our state for good. We only bought more time for Nebraskans to organize, unite, and strategize for a future in Nebraska without legal abortion care.
While the leak of Justice Alito’s opinion was unexpected, the decision to overturn Roe is not. Far right extremists have been intent on eviscerating federal civil rights protections and regressing the country to an era of forced birth for decades. This outcome is no surprise to the people who have long been working for abortion justice outside the realm of electoral politics, because they never counted on the courts or the Democratic Party to save them.
Of course, voting matters. The ideological balance in the Nebraska Legislature is the only reason Nebraska will not immediately have an abortion ban if Roe is overturned. However, repeated calls to simply vote the problem away—which totally disregard voter suppression laws, those who live and pay taxes in Nebraska but do not have the right to vote, and our current cultural hostility to democracy—ignore how effectively the far right has captured the power of so many institutions outside of the electoral process.
There are many things we must do in addition to voting to change our culture and move the needle toward justice. World Health Organization guidance states that individuals in the first trimester of pregnancy can self-manage a medication for an abortion without direct supervision of a health-care provider. We can expect self-managed abortion to grow more prevalent in years to come, and there are a growing number of resources to learn about the research and efficacy of these methods. In addition to increased education around self-managed abortion and legal protections for those who choose this type of care, local funds for abortion services, including legal defense funds, will play a greater role in our public health landscape. This is infrastructure that abortion justice advocates have been building for decades to protect the right to abortion even when legislators fail to.
And the decision about whether and when to become a parent does not belong to the government. However we personally feel about abortion, individuals should have the option to make these decisions without political interference. If the Nebraska Legislature does convene a special session to ban abortion, I can promise that anti-choice politicians will have an uphill battle, because they will have to go through me. Whatever the outcome is, we must remember that the power is not in the legislature, in Congress, or even in the courts. The power is with us, our communities, and in our commitment to an ethic of compassion and trust in each other.