Nebraskans recognize and understand the dignity and value of human life. It’s evident in the homemade billboards you see on state highways urging Nebraskans to “choose life.” You can see it in the actions of Nebraskans who generously support pregnancy centers with their time and financial resources. And it’s reflected in the work of state officials over the years who have put in place laws that protect unborn babies.
Shortly after the Roe v. Wade decision striking down state laws on abortion in the 1970s, our Legislature passed a bill reaffirming Nebraska’s respect for the dignity of unborn life. Today, the law on the books says, “[it is] the will of the people of the State of Nebraska and the members of the Legislature to provide protection for the life of the unborn child whenever possible.” Over the past two years, the Legislature and I have worked together on a number of initiatives to recognize the dignity of pre-born children. Three bills I have signed in recent years have helped build respect for the dignity of life, and our latest budget contains important pro-life language.
In 2017, senators came together to pass legislation creating the “Choose Life” license plate. This was the first pro-life legislation that had been passed in years. Today, you will see many cars with these beautiful license plates. The plates display a picture of a mother walking through a field while holding hands with her young child.
Senator Joni Albrecht of Thurston has been a leader in defending the dignity of life in Nebraska. In 2017, she championed the Compassion and Care for Medically Challenging Pregnancies Act. This act allows physicians who diagnose unborn children with a fetal anomaly to provide the parents with information pertaining to perinatal hospice care. Before this legislation, many parents were provided minimal options when given a serious medical diagnosis during the early stages of a pregnancy.
This year, Senator Albrecht had another bill, LB 1040, which provides for commemorative certificates of nonviable birth to mothers who miscarry prior to 20 weeks of gestation. Nebraska’s Department of Health and Human Services already provides certificates of birth resulting in stillbirth for babies who pass away at the twentieth week of gestation or beyond upon request. This new bill helps recognize the loss that parents feel with every miscarriage. This important bill will help to provide closure to grieving mothers and fathers in Nebraska.
Finally, I worked with Senators on new language to ensure the Title X program, which is funded by taxpayer dollars, does not subsidize abortion services. Previously, clinics in Nebraska that referred for, directively counseled for, or performed abortions in Nebraska were receiving Title X federal funding. New action by Congress and the Trump Administration has given the states more latitude in how Title X funding is distributed. The budget I signed this year maintains the existing level of Title X funding and directs the funds to clinics that do not provide abortions or abortion services.
In addition to working with the Legislature, my administration recently announced a new maternity leave donation program for state teammates. At my direction starting in January, expecting mothers or new mothers who work for the state can receive donated vacation and compensatory time from their co-workers to expand their own paid time off while on family medical leave. This program will give new mothers additional flexibility to invest their time, love, and care in their newborn child.
We are also working to ensure the dignity of human life is recognized through the level of service we deliver. At DHHS, we are answering the phones faster and turning around applications for services more quickly. For example, we cut wait times to determine eligibility for developmental disability (DD) services from an average of 69 days to an average of just 16 days. We slashed the length of the application from 14 pages to 3, so everyone deals with less paperwork. In 2017, we made more DD service offers than the last five years combined. This funding will allow the state to provide an even higher level of service to one of our most vulnerable populations.
These are just a few examples of how we are recognizing the dignity of life in Nebraska. Nebraska is a pro-life state, and I will continue to work with my agencies and the Legislature to help our laws reflect our values. As Mother Teresa once said, “Together we can do great things.” If you have ideas you would like to share, we want to hear them. Email me at [email protected] or call my office at 402-471-2244.