A Nebraska news station says it fired a news director who collected signatures for a pro-life ballot initiative because her actions violated the company's policy of journalistic impartiality and raised questions about her ability to cover the abortion issue without bias.
Melanie Standiford, the former news director and co-anchor at KNOP-TV in North Platte, worked for the company for five years before her termination last week. She gathered signatures for an initiative seeking to outlaw abortion in her hometown.
The news station terminated Standiford on the same day The Flatwater Free Press reported on her efforts to gather signatures in Curtis. The petition calls for a vote in November to determine if the city will become a sanctuary for the unborn.
KNOP confirmed in a statement to The Christian Post that Standiford's employment concluded on Friday, remarking that the company wishes her well in her future endeavors.
"Separately, KNOP can confirm that our long-standing company policy encourages civic involvement among our employees, so long as such activities do not give the appearance of interfering with journalistic impartiality," the statement reads.
"In furtherance of that qualification, KNOP's news personnel are not permitted, at any time and regardless of beliefs, to actively engage in any political activity for any candidate, party, or ballot initiative."
As The North Platte Bulletin reported on Monday, a news director for the company, speaking on behalf of the general manager, informed Standiford that her involvement with the petition makes it difficult for her to operate as a neutral source on the issue.
Standiford said in a Wednesday statement to CP that the news station was not clear that the company's policy extended to gathering signatures from "like-minded Christians." She also claimed that she did not do any reporting on her attempt to gather signatures for the ballot initiative.
"This was my church and with the people in my community that I know personally and on my own time," Standiford wrote.
The former news director shared the petition with her church in early August, collecting a total of 47 combined signatures from the congregation and another church based in Curtis, according to Bulletin.
Before The Free Press report, Standiford says the company never found fault with her reporting on the abortion issue. She is consulting with an attorney, arguing that she has the right to uphold her values outside the workplace.
On Monday, a group of people protested across the street from KNOP's office, holding signs bearing slogans such as "#I Stand with Standiford."
Curtis is among six other towns expected to vote this year on whether to outlaw abortion within city limits: Arnold, Brady, Curtis, Hershey, Paxon and Wallace.
The sanctuary city ordinance defines abortion as "the act of using or prescribing an instrument, a drug, a medicine, or any other substance, device, or means with the intent to cause the death of an unborn child of a woman known to be pregnant."
The penalty for violating the ordinance is a $500 fine. However, the ordinance clarifies that it would not forbid medical treatment to preserve the mother's life or remove a dead fetus, as these actions are not considered abortions.
With the U.S. Supreme Court's overturning of Roe v. Wade in June again giving states the authority to determine abortion laws, the ability to enforce the ordinance will likely be a matter of state law, according to The Free Press.
Anthony Schutz, a law professor at the University of Nebraska College of Law, believes there could be a conflict with the state's abortion law even if local governments have some authority to enforce the ordinances.
Planned Parenthood's former research arm, the Guttmacher Institute, reports that Nebraska allows abortions up to 20 weeks gestation, allowing for later abortions in life-of-the-mother cases.
"The one thing I think is relatively clear is that cities have no authority to regulate this sort of thing under Nebraska law," Schutz said in a statement to The Free Press.
The Nebraska legislature will have to authorize cities to enforce the ordinance before they have the power to regulate abortion.
Last year, Lubbock, Texas, became the most populous sanctuary city for the unborn in the U.S. after residents voted to outlaw abortion within the city limits. Planned Parenthood filed a lawsuit against the city in May 2021, two weeks after 62.5% of the city's 250,000 residents voted in favor of the referendum.
Earlier this year, Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas Surgical Health Services filed a motion to dismiss a lawsuit against the city. The motion to dismiss came several months after a federal judge in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, Lubbock Division, upheld the ban.