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Faith leaders on Nebraska's LB 626, religious freedom and maternal care

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Deborah Van Fleet

(Nebraska News Connection) Identifying as a person of faith is not synonymous with supporting Legislative Bill 626, the six-week abortion ban bill in the Nebraska legislature.

In February, 120 Nebraska clergy from five different faiths signed on to a full-page ad opposing the measure, which ran in Nebraska's three largest newspapers. It was paid for by the Nebraska Religious Council for Reproductive Freedom, and two Omaha churches, including Omaha's Urban Abbey Methodist Church.

Rev. Debra McKnight, Urban Abbey's founding pastor, experienced the importance of reproductive freedom firsthand when she had a miscarriage at 12-13 weeks of pregnancy.

"I just can't even imagine if part of that time would have been the doctor having to clarify with a hospital attorney or a legislator or anybody else what's the next best step for my health and well-being," McKnight said.

In 2020, the March of Dimes classified 70% of Nebraska counties as maternity care deserts, and in 2022 gave the state a D for preterm births.

McKnight argued if Nebraska legislators had the best interests of women and families in mind, they would be debating bills to strengthen maternal health care, affordable child care and early childhood education.

McKnight maintained on the subject of abortion, the Christian voice, including of evangelicals, has been "corrupted" by conservative political efforts.

"And so, I would want to be clear that Christianity has a diversity of voices, and you don't have to understand this "pro-birth" narrative as the only appropriate Christian response," McKnight contended.

Wendy Goldberg, a longtime member and former president of the congregation of Temple Israel, said the value of human life is very important in Judaism, including for the mother. 

"For any physical or mental health needs, the life and the choice of the mother to be able to have reproductive health care is a priority, and I believe essential in our state in order to protect religious freedom," Goldberg explained.

Goldberg added abortion is about both gender equity and the value of humanity, and it is important to identify the "thought leaders in the lane."

"In this lane, the thought leaders are medical professionals," Goldberg emphasized. "Our medical professionals are telling us that this is a decision that should be made between a woman and her doctor."

The bill advanced in the first round of debate earlier this month. Round two of the three it has to pass to become law is scheduled for Thursday, April 27.