On Friday, June 24, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a decision overturning the constitutional right to abortion set nearly a half century ago. The decision puts abortion back in the hands of the states, many of which preemptively passed total abortion bans making the practice illegal in their state. Nebraska narrowly missed passing a similar law, but a special session to reconsider it is expected. A fundraiser for Nebraska Abortion Resources, profiled in this story, raised $17,328 over the weekend, adding to a growing fund to help Nebraskans access reproductive care regardless of state law.
People nationwide called Kirstin Clephane to talk about their pregnancies — whether they were ready for a child or considering abortion or adoption. The volunteer role was at a pregnancy resource center in Bloomington, Indiana, but Clephane knew they’d continue working to secure people’s rights to abortion after moving to Nebraska in 2019. That’s when they found Nebraska Abortion Resources (NEAR), Nebraska’s first state-wide abortion fund.
If Roe v. Wade were overturned, as suggested by a leaked Supreme Court decision, Nebraska would be one of 26 states likely to ban abortion. People like Chelsea Souder, founder and director of NEAR, as well providers like Planned Parenthood and the CARE Clinic, have prepared for this. NEAR has been raising funds and planning alternatives to in-state abortions, but now that the moment of reckoning is here, its magnitude is hard to fathom.
“The world didn’t realize it and wasn’t hearing us screaming from the rooftops, until now,” she said. “We’ve been planning to the best of our ability, but can we really plan for what this is going to look like? I don’t think that we can.”
Following the May leak of a draft majority Supreme Court opinion overturning Roe v. Wade, Nebraska Speaker and State Senator Mike Hilgers said the Nebraska Legislature would hold a special session to determine the legality of abortion if the federal protection fell. Nebraska currently allows abortions within 20 weeks of fertilization.
In April, state officials narrowly blocked “trigger” bill LB 933, which would have banned all abortions without national safeguards. But while pro-choice advocates knew that was the end of the battle, it was just another continuation of the war.
“Basically what we were just doing was buying some time,” State Senator Megan Hunt said. “Blocking that bill was a great opportunity to activate Nebraskans and show Nebraskans who care about reproductive justice and abortion justice that this is a big deal in Nebraska, and they need to be paying attention and getting in the fight with us. At that point, we’ll just have this fight all over again.”
Regionally Nebraska is one of the only states that didn’t pass a pre-emptive abortion ban. Missouri, South Dakota, North Dakota and Wyoming all passed similar bills. States like Kansas and Iowa may also ban abortions in the coming years. Though two separate studies from the Pew Research Center and the ACLU found a majority of Nebraskans oppose abortion bans, political will bodes well for pro-life advocates.
"If Roe v. Wade, which is a horrible constitutional decision, gets overturned by the Supreme Court, which we're hopeful of, here in Nebraska, we're going to take further steps to protect those preborn babies,” Gov. Pete Ricketts said May 15 on CNN. Ricketts clarified the future law would include babies conceived through rape and incest.
As Nebraska’s first and only state abortion fund, NEAR will continue funding abortions even if they are made illegal.
Founded in 2020, NEAR operates as a non-profit, collecting donations and raising money. Souder estimates it’s compiled nearly $100,000 worth of support from two established foundations and 240 individual donors. NEAR distributes that money directly to abortion seekers, covering procedure costs, travel, childcare, whatever is necessary to get people to their appointment and back. Those services will become more important if neighboring states ban the procedure and would make the closest abortion clinics located in Illinois, Colorado and Minnesota. Right now Nebraska has three clinics performing abortions: Planned Parenthood with two locations, one in Omaha and one in Lincoln and the CARE Clinic in Bellevue.
“Local abortion funds are incredibly important, even prior to the possibility of overturning Roe v. Wade,” NEAR volunteer board member and University of Nebraska at Omaha professor Sofia Jawed-Wessel said. “They've been around for a long time and serve some of the most marginalized people who are seeking abortions. We need to support the abortion seekers directly, and that's what abortion funds do. ”
To apply for aid, an abortion seeker calls NEAR, specifies the treatment they are seeking and how much money they can pay out of pocket. NEAR handles the rest, covering the gap in cost.
Souder recently assisted a patient who had exceeded Nebraska’s 20-week limit for abortions and needed to travel to Colorado to seek treatment. Souder estimated that the travel, procedural and childcare costs totaled nearly $10,000. This is when other Midwest abortion funds helped foot some of the bill.
More established organizations like the Chicago Abortion Fund have more funds and can mitigate some of NEAR’s patients’ costs. Souder said the Midwest abortion funds have a group chat and email system where they can solicit donations on the patient’s behalf. Regardless of what occurs federally, Souder said this service is still a local necessity.
“However it lands with the Supreme Court, we know what's happening now,” Souder said. “We're still doing some work. It's just that we'll have to scale it up. We're doing our best as we can to raise more funds and prepare more volunteers.”
Souder hopes the expansion of their volunteer program will help minimize a portion of those increased costs.
NEAR officially launched its volunteer program at the beginning of this month and is currently vetting nearly 50 applicants. Volunteers do anything from organizing fundraisers to designing marketing materials to solicit donations. Souder said the volunteer program will continue to evolve, ideally into a network that could shuttle patients to appointments out-of-state if necessary.
A new NEAR volunteer, Jawed-Wessel has dedicated her career to studying topics like sexual health, maternal objectification and reproductive rights. Between teaching and parenting, Jawed-Wessel plans to use her personal time to help NEAR with grant-writing as well as fine-tuning the organization’s mission and values, ensuring the organization recognizes the work women of color do to safeguard abortion access.
“Having [an abortion fund] here was really important to me as an academic because I can support them via my scholarship and research,” Jawed-Wessel said. “We are wanting to propose research projects that will amplify the work that [NEAR is] doing such as learning more about the demographics of individuals who are using NEAR’s resources.”
As a woman of color, Jawed-Wessel works to identify how NEAR can better serve and represent marginalized communities. Many abortion advocates continue to cite the fact that minorities are often the most adversely affected by a lack of access to abortion and reproductive services.
“This decision, regardless of what happens in Nebraska, is going to disproportionately affect the most marginalized communities: Black and Brown folx, lower socioeconomic status folx, LGBTQ+, rural folx…Folx with money, especially white women, have traditionally had access to abortion,” Souder said. “This is a bigger issue than just us coming together and funding abortions.”
Despite the national projections on abortion security and viral statements from politicians like Ricketts, the future of abortion in Nebraska isn't certain. Hunt said most Nebraskans want abortion access and politics are the real roadblocks against codifying the right to abortion. Organizations like NEAR, and the funds they’ve raised, are proof of that. If advocates see that same support, as well as action that’s halted past abortion bans, Nebraska will have a fighting chance.
“The power is ultimately really with us, in our communities,” Hunt said. “And that's because of our commitment to an ethic of compassion and love and supporting each other, regardless of what the law and the courts do. There are a lot of people who have understood for a long time that they can't rely on politicians to save us.”
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