A bill that would clarify that a mother or another person could use force -- even deadly force -- to protect an unborn child got a hearing Wednesday in front of the Judiciary Committee.
Sen. Mark Christensen of Imperial, who introduced the bill (LB232), said it was prompted by a Michigan case in which a pregnant woman carrying quadruplets was found guilty of manslaughter for killing her boyfriend after he punched her in the stomach, causing a miscarriage. She was sentenced to five to 20 years as an habitual offender.
A Michigan Appeals Court later overturned the case.
Christensen said he did not want to see a woman in Nebraska go through the trauma of losing a baby, only to be prosecuted and punished for trying to protect it.
Some committee members and testifiers said they were concerned the bill could be used to justify harming or killing an abortion provider.
There were also questions about whether the bill accomplished anything that wasn't already provided for in current state self-defense laws.
Melissa Grant with Planned Parenthood of the Heartland said the bill could put the organization's parents, medical personnel, volunteers and staff at risk of potential violence and harm.
"However well intentioned, I also believe this bill would likely have very grave unintended negative consequences," Grant said.
It could give license to restrain a woman going to a provider for an abortion, she said. It could authorize and protect vigilantes.
Alan Peterson, representing ACLU of Nebraska, said if the drafters of the bill wanted it limited to the pregnant woman defending her unborn baby, they should have written it that way.
"Let's not pull out the ace of spades, the right to kill, as an answer to these tough problems," Peterson said. "The choice of violence which we're talking about here ought to be the very last."
Suzanne Gage, state director of Americans United for Life, the organization that drafted the model legislation for the bill, said Oklahoma and Missouri have enacted similar legislation.
But this bill is broader than Oklahoma's, said Omaha Sen. Brenda Council, and gives any third person the right to use force to protect an unborn child.
Studies have shown, Gage said, that violence and abuse are often higher during pregnancy. Every year, 300,000 pregnant women in the United States experience some kind of violence involving an intimate partner.
Christensen said his sole intent was to protect the pregnant woman and her child.
"That's where it lays. That's where it stays," he said.
He would be willing to narrow the bill to accomplish that goal, he said.