Updated October 26, 2022 - 10:57 am
RENO — Abortion is one of the biggest issues driving voters to the polls this year, even in a state where protections are codified in state law by a more than three-decade-old voter referendum. But that hasn’t stopped Democrats in Nevada from zeroing in on Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo’s sometimes contradictory statements on the issue.
Lombardo, who is the Republican candidate for governor, has changed his stance on whether to repeal an executive order protecting women who come to Nevada seeking abortions and has said he’d support allowing voters to decide whether to introduce a 13-week ban on abortion in Nevada. He’s also said he would support other measures to restrict abortion access, such as parental notification for minors seeking an abortion.
Nevada’s abortion law
In March, Lombardo called himself “pro-life” with exceptions for rape, incest and cases in which the mother’s life is in danger but said he supports Nevada’s existing law in an interview with KRNV-TV Channel 4.
Nevada’s law, which was first passed by the Legislature in 1973 following the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade, protects the right to an abortion up to the 24th week of pregnancy and after that point if a doctor believes the mother’s life or health is jeopardized. The right was cemented in 1990 when Nevada voters passed Question 7 and cannot be changed except by another vote of the people.
Two months after the KRNV interview, Lombardo told a Las Vegas Review-Journal columnist he would support allowing voters to bring a new initiative to impose a 13-week ban with exceptions for rape, incest and when the mother’s life is in danger.
After the June 24 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, Lombardo said Nevada voters would “rightfully” be allowed to decide the issue. (The Dobbs case didn’t ban abortion; it simply allowed states to pass laws regarding the practice.)
“I’m Catholic and pro-life, and I believe that most Nevadans — no matter what their personal background is — agree with me and want fewer abortions, not more,” he said in a statement posted to his Twitter account. “As the U.S. Supreme Court decided today and as Nevadans decided long ago, this important issue was and should be decided by Nevada voters, and moving forward, I trust them to make the best decision for our state.”
But later, when asked if he would support a 13-week ban during an interview with KRNV, Lombardo said said he supported Nevada’s existing law notwithstanding his personal views.
“My position is pro-life. I’m Catholic and that’s my position. But here in the state of Nevada, the abortion issue, Roe v. Wade, the whole issue is codified in law,” he said during the interview. “I support the position that the people feel, where the majority of voters have passed the referendum, I support that.”
Lombardo’s website was changed shortly following that interview, and a page was changed from “Joe is pro-life” to instead include his support for Nevada’s existing law.
Potential national ban
Lombardo again doubled down on his support for Nevada’s law in September following a proposal for a nationwide abortion ban from U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., which would prohibit abortion after 15 weeks across the country. Although there is little chance such a measure would pass in the House as currently constituted, much less survive a Senate filibuster or a presidential veto, such a law if passed would supersede Nevada’s protections.
When asked if he would fight to protect Nevada’s voter-ratified statue if Republicans passed the nationwide ban, Lombardo said he would.
“It is the vote of the people within the state of Nevada and I will support that. That is an issue that doesn’t need to be in politics,” he told reporters in Reno.
During the only debate between Lombardo and Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak early in October, hosted by the online news website The Nevada Independent, Lombardo said he no longer supports a 13-week ban after “he thought about it more.”
“As I thought about it more, personally, I support the law that the people approve,” he said.
In an emailed statement to the Review-Journal, Lombardo slammed his opponent for not telling voters “the truth about abortion law.”
“I’ve never said that I’d seek to ban abortion in Nevada, and it’s disappointing that Steve Sisolak doesn’t respect voters enough to tell them the truth about abortion law in Nevada. The truth is that Nevada voters enacted abortion access up to 24 weeks, and the only way to change that is by a vote of the people,” he said.
Support for executive order waxes and wanes
Just days after the Dobbs decision was released, Sisolak signed an executive order that prevents Nevada agencies from providing information to out-of-state authorities for the purpose of investigating people for receiving or providing abortions in Nevada.
A spokesperson with Lombardo’s campaign declined to answer at the time whether he would try to remove the order if elected and instead slammed the governor for “politicization of the issue.”
A few weeks later, Lombardo said he would repeal the executive order during a mid-August interview with KRNV. Just days later, and after Sisolak vowed to work to codify the protections into state law during the 2023 legislative session, Lombardo said he would have to evaluate the order.
“I’d have to evaluate it, and I’d look at it from the lens of being a pro-life governor,” he said in a statement, according to reporting from The Associated Press.
On Sept. 27, Lombardo published a letter on his campaign website that outlined his stances on abortion, including newfound support for Sisolak’s order.
“Steve Sisolak is addicted to executive orders both to protect his power and score political points. I simply do not believe executive orders are meant to be permanent or should be used as a campaign tactic,” he wrote. “However, because there are efforts in other states that could impact Nevadans, I have made a commitment not to repeal that executive order until the Legislature can make clear that Nevada is not going to prosecute women who seek an abortion or medical providers that perform legal abortions.”
A spokesperson with Lombardo’s campaign told the Review-Journal that the change came after Alabama’s attorney general announced that people who assist with out-of-state abortion laws could be prosecuted under the state’s conspiracy and accessory laws.
In a voter guide from the Reno Gazette Journal published last week, Lombardo said he would sign a bill codifying protections for out-of-state abortion patients and providers.
“I hope a bill like that is sent to my desk, so that we can make clear that we are never going to prosecute women for having an abortion in Nevada,” he said.
Lombardo’s campaign has also criticized Sisolak because a state website says abortion rights are safe and protected under Nevada law, while simultaneously airing campaign commercials warning that abortion rights are an issue on the 2022 ballot and could be undone if Lombardo is elected.
During a KLAS-TV, Channel 8, primary debate between candidates facing off for the Republican Party’s nomination for governor, Lombardo said he would consider “anything associated with a pro-life view” when asked if he would support restrictions such as parental notification laws, waiting periods and limiting access to Plan B pills.
A spokesperson walked back that comment nearly a month later, saying in a statement that Lombardo “never said he would limit contraceptive access, nor does he have any intention to.” Lombardo further clarified this position during the October debate, saying he wasn’t able to fully answer the question from the KLAS debate host.
“I do support contraceptives. I do support parental notification with the exceptions of rape and incest. As far as abortion, I have no intentions of readdressing the issue,” he said.
During the debate, Lombardo said he would not support mandatory ultrasounds but would support mandatory waiting periods for women seeking an abortion, a stance that his campaign later clarified to say that any law requiring mandatory waiting periods would need to come from a ballot measure.
Lombardo’s campaign has also said he supports parental notification for minors.
Support from abortion groups
In July, Lombardo was endorsed by the National Right to Life, a nationwide anti-abortion organization. He has also been endorsed by the state affiliate of National Right to Life, appearing in Nevada Right to Life PAC’s voter guide under “Nevada pro-life endorsements.”
And that the support goes both ways. Reporting from the Nevada Independent revealed Lombardo’s campaign had sponsored an event for the anti-abortion group Nevada Right to Life in May and paid the group $1,500 in special event fees. The campaign also paid a combined $1,700 to two other crisis pregnancy centers — Women’s Resource Medical Centers Of Southern Nevada and Living Grace Homes — for event fees.