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LINCOLN (LifeSiteNews) — Legislation to ban abortions once a fetal heartbeat can be detected died in the Nebraska legislature Thursday when one of its early backers reversed himself after attempting to soften the bill.

LB 626, the Nebraska Heartbeat Act, would have required abortionists to first test for a fetal heartbeat, which is generally detectable at six weeks, and forbids abortion if one is found, except in cases of rape, incest, or medical emergencies. Violators would be punished by loss of their medical license.

Pro-lifers in the Cornhusker State experienced a rare bright spot in the 2022 midterm elections by expanding to a 33-seat majority in the state’s unicameral legislature, rendering pro-life legislation no longer susceptible to filibusters, which had previously stymied efforts to limit abortion to 12 weeks. Abortion is currently legal until 20 weeks in Nebraska.

However, the bill fell one vote short of the 33 necessary Thursday due to an abstention by Republican state Sen. Merv Riepe, the Associated Press reports. Riepe had initially supported the bill, but suggested that six weeks was not enough time for women to discover they were pregnant. He proposed an amendment to delay the cutoff point to 12 weeks and add an exception for fetal anomalies “incompatible with life.”

His amendment failed, at which point he warned the GOP that being too aggressive on abortion could provoke an electoral backlash, echoing comments by liberal Republican U.S. Rep. Nancy Mace and former President Donald Trump.

“We must embrace the future of reproductive rights,” Riepe claimed.

Pro-life Republican Gov. Jim Pillen expressed disappointment for the development, and called Riepe’s failure to vote “unacceptable.”

“Today’s a crushing day for the pro-life cause,” Tom Venzor, executive director of the Nebraska Catholic Conference, told KETV, but added that pro-lifers would press on. “We’re going to do what we’ve done every day for the last 50-plus years. We’re going to keep moving forward, are going to march together. We’re going to continue to advocate for the human person so that every preborn baby can be loved into life and every mom can be embraced with the support she needs to say yes to life.”

Fourteen states currently ban all or most abortions, thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court voting last summer to overturn Roe v. Wade and return abortion to the democratic process.

To preserve abortion “access” in this new landscape, the abortion lobby and its allies are pursuing multiple strategies, including easing distribution of abortion pills, legal protection and financial support of interstate abortion travel, attempting to enshrine “rights” to the practice in state constitutions, and attempting to construct new abortion facilities near borders shared by pro-life and pro-abortion states.

Meanwhile, President Joe Biden has called on Congress to codify a “right” to abortion in federal law, which would not only restore but expand the Roe status quo by making it illegal for states to pass virtually any pro-life laws. Democrats currently lack the votes to do so, but whether they get those votes is sure to be one of the major issues of the 2024 elections.