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Nevada Legislature liberalizes abortion rules

Updated May 21, 2019 - 3:25 pm

CARSON CITY — As a growing number of states have moved to outlaw most abortions in a push to overturn Roe v. Wade, Nevada continues to head in the other direction.

Eight states have passed bills this year to limit abortions, including the law recently signed by the governor of Alabama that outright bans the procedure. Some of those bans, including Alabama’s, are expected to be challenged in court in what could ultimately lead to the now-conservative leaning U.S. Supreme Court revisiting Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that legalized abortion in the United States.

Lawmakers in Nevada, however, are going the opposite direction of those in Alabama, Missouri and other states.

On Tuesday, the Nevada Assembly passed Senate Bill 179 — commonly called the Trust Nevada Women Act — which would remove many of the criminal penalties for abortions still on the books, some of which date back more than a century. The bill passed 27-13, with Assemblywoman Dina Neal, D-North Las Vegas, the only Democrat to join all 12 Assembly republicans in voting against it. The Senate still needs to concur with an Assembly amendment before the bill goes to Gov. Steve Sisolak’s desk.

SB179 won’t change the way a woman can access an abortion in the state, but the bill offers a symbolic stand for the pro-choice movement in Nevada.

“Nevada is continuing to show its commitment to women,” said state Sen. Yvanna Cancela, D-Las Vegas, the bill’s prime sponsor, in an interview. “Continuing to move Nevada’s reproductive freedoms forward as opposed to backwards is important, and certainly in that way, this bill can be symbolic.”

Tuesday’s vote lined up with nationwide rally to protest the new state bans, and dozens of pro-choice advocates packed into the Legislature building for the vote.

“It’s a big moment,” said Caroline Mello Roberson, Nevada state director for NARAL Pro-Choice Nevada. “I think that this is an opportunity for Nevadans to stand up for something good, which is protecting that these decision are deeply personal and not to be made by politicians.”

Removing old penalties

While the bill doesn’t expand women’s access to abortion, it will remove antiquated criminal penalties associated with the procedure that have been in Nevada law dating to 1911 — laws that have never been used to successfully prosecute someone in the state.

SB179 will also change some of the language around the type of information doctors are required to give women considering the procedure — like removing the requirement for a doctor to provide information to the woman about the emotional ramifications of an abortion or asking about her age or if she is married.

Cancela said the reason for the changes to the informed consent language is to make sure they are “in line with medical best practice,” and that woman get the correct information before making their decision.

“That doesn’t mean that a doctor can’t share that, but it doesn’t put an OB/GYN in the position of being a psychologist,” Cancela said.

But opponents of the bill worry about some of those changes to the informed consent statutes.

Giving a floor statement before the vote, Assemblywoman Jill Tolles, R-Reno, said she was concerned with removing the requirement that a doctor record the age of a woman who gets an abortion.

“Without the provision requiring a physician to ask the age of the patient, we may be missing clear red flags of abuse and trafficking,” Tolles said.

Nevada’s pro-choice initiative

Despite the 1973 Roe decision being the law of the land for more than four decades, the wave of states passing those abortion limitation acts shows that anti-abortion sentiment has not yet faded.

“It’s a reminder that women’s reproductive rights were not given to us. They were fought for and they are not guaranteed, and they must be continually fought for,” Cancela said.

But even if Roe v. Wade is overturned, and abortion decisions are returned to the states, Nevada would likely be insulated from the impacts, thanks to a voter-approved ballot measure that passed nearly 30 years ago.

In 1990, Nevadans voted to approve Question 7 — by a 63.5 percent to 36.5 percent margin — and codified a statute that allows abortions within the first 24 weeks of pregnancy. The vote effectively wrote the Roe decision into state law. And that law can only be changed or removed by another vote of the people.

But the movement seen in other states could be a sign of momentum building to roll back some of the more progressive abortion language in individual states, including Nevada, said Melissa Clement, executive director of Nevada Right to Life.

“There is becoming an appetite, that’s for sure. I think that’s why you’re seeing this movement,” Clement said. “With the kind of energy that’s out there, I wouldn’t rule anything out.”

But given Nevada’s history of passing progressive legislation on the issue, Cancela said she doesn’t see that happening anytime soon.

“It’s hard to have a political crystal ball, but I think Nevada women have shown that they’re pioneers in the fight for reproductive freedom and that they’re resilient in the fight,” Cancela said. “They don’t want government to make decisions for what they do with their body. I’m confident that will stay true for a long time.”

Contact Capital Bureau Chief Colton Lochhead at clochhead@reviewjournal.com or 775-461-3820. Follow @ColtonLochhead on Twitter.

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