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By Brad Brooks
(Reuters) - Nebraska lawmakers on Friday passed a bill that limits abortion and puts restrictions on gender-affirming medical care for transgender youth in a single piece of legislation that strikes at two highly divisive issues.
The bill, which Republican Governor Jim Pillen is expected to sign into law, bans abortions after 12 weeks of gestational age, making Nebraska the latest state to impose restrictions after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last year.
It includes exceptions for medical emergencies when the mother's life is at risk, and in cases of rape or incest.
The same bill also bans "gender-altering surgery" and places restrictions on hormone therapy and puberty-blocking drugs for transgender people under 19.
Abortion and gender-affirming medical treatment for transgender youth are at the heart of the so-called culture war raging in American politics, with Republican-dominated legislatures across the country banning or putting sharp restrictions on both. Republicans have introduced more than 500 bills affecting LGBTQ people in 2023, with at least 49 passing, according to the Human Rights Campaign, an LGBTQ rights group.
Nebraska's single-house legislature, dominated by Republicans, voted 33-15 to pass the bill, known as L.B. 574.
Chants from protesters opposed to the bill echoed in the capitol building's rotunda and could be heard on the legislature floor.
Senator Machaela Cavanaugh, a Democrat, at one point took to the podium and repeatedly yelled "trans people belong here, we love trans people!"
As the debate wore on, protesters in the galleries began tossing paper and other objects onto the chamber floor. Law enforcement officers cleared the galleries of all spectators.
Supporters of the bill said it was a means of protecting unborn babies from abortion and teenagers from undergoing irreversible medical procedures they may later regret.
"This bill is simply about protecting innocent life and protecting our kids. Nothing more, nothing less," said Senator Tom Briese, a Republican.
(Reporting by Brad Brooks in Lubbock, Texas; Editing by Paul Thomasch and Deepa Babington)