Abortion proposal heard; senators debate food stamps for drug felons

Sen. Joni Albrecht testifies Wednesday (Photo by Fred Knapp, NET News)
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March 20, 2019 - 5:32pm

A proposal to require abortion providers to tell women medically-induced abortions may be reversed drew support and opposition at a public hearing Wednesday. And senators debated whether to allow SNAP benefits – food stamps – for people convicted of drug felonies, once they’re released from prison.


About half the abortions in Nebraska are performed by giving women two pills. The first blocks progesterone, a hormone needed to continue pregnancy, the second causes the uterus to contract. Legislation proposed by Sen. Joni Albrecht would require abortion providers to tell women that after they take the first pill, it may be possible to reverse the effects.

Rebekah Hagan testified in support of the bill. Hagan said as an 18-year-old college freshman just leaving an abusive relationship, she discovered she was pregnant and sought a medical abortion. She took the first pill and then left the clinic. “By the time I got to my car, which maybe took two minutes, I broke down,” she said. “I began to feel intense sadness and regret… and all I could think was ‘Oh my gosh, what did I just do?’”

Hagan said she sought out information on reversing the procedure, and now has a healthy 5-year-old boy.   

Teresa Kenney, a women’s health nurse practitioner with the Sancta Familia medical clinic in Omaha, said studies show about two-thirds of women who start progesterone therapy within 48 hours of taking the progesterone blocker remain pregnant, compared to about a quarter of those who don’t. “Abortion pill reversal does not save every pregnancy. But it allows for a woman to do everything that she can to reverse a decision she deeply regrets,” Kenney said.

Opponents questioned the studies about the reversal procedure’s effectiveness. Among them was Dr. Deborah Turner, associate medical director for Planned Parenthood of the Heartland. “If we are telling physicians like I that we have to tell our patients information that has not been shown to be proven, is untrue, and could potentially give harm, we are destroying the patient-physician relationship, and it would cause me simply to lie to my patients,” Turner said.

Turner said 25 to 50 percent of patients who take the first abortion-inducing pil,l but not the second, remain pregnant. She responded to a question from Sen. Steve Lathrop about whether this means progesterone therapy may not be responsible for maintaining pregnancies for women who use that therapy after taking the first pill. “It may just be a function, not of the progesterone, but the fact that they’re in the 25 to 50 percent of the people that would go on to have a successful pregnancy, just by virtue of not taking the second drug?” Lathrop said.

“Yes,” Turner answered.

The committee took no immediate action on the bill.

Meanwhile, in the full Legislature Wednesday morning, senators debated a proposal to let people convicted of drug felonies get SNAP benefits, or food stamps, after they’re released from prison. Sen. Mike Groene leading a filibuster against the bill, saying it would benefit drug dealers. “They’re the most despicable criminal out there – the most self-centered individualist there is. You can’t speak of another crime that has more victims,” Groene said.

Sen. Sara Howard, supporting the measure, said it would help people who are addicted to drugs, once they’re released from prison. “They could come out and receive food stamp benefits immediately, so that we don’t see them going back into prison because they robbed or went back to drug use or drug distribution because they didn’t have any other options to get food,” Howard said.

Lathrop also supported the proposal as well, calling it a way to relieve the state’s prison overcrowding problem. “I know it is offensive to say criminal, you can have a federal benefit, you can have something to eat and it won’t cost you something. But I’m telling you: this is a piece to the solution,” he said.

Sen. Steve Erdman, opposing the proposal, disputed Lathrop’s argument. “Just because we give somebody food does not mean they’re not going to reoffend. The issue that we have is that people have to change their lifestyle. And they have to be instructed in a way that shows them there’s a better way,” Erdman said.

Senators adjourned for the day without reaching a vote on the bill. Debate’s expected to resume Thursday.

And a proposal to require employers provide paid family leave for new parents, those who need time off to care for themselves or family members fell short. After reaching the three hour limit for debate, Speaker Jim Scheer took it off the agenda without a vote taking place.

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