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How Las Vegas has become the abortion care hub of the southwest

Updated January 8, 2024 - 11:29 am

Since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, triggering states to put in place abortion restrictions, Planned Parenthood centers have continued to see a rise of out-of-state patients in Nevada, which has become a hub for abortion care in the desert.

The number of out-of-state patients traveling to Southern Nevada to receive an abortion has doubled since the Dobbs v. Jackson decision that overturned the constitutional right to an abortion, according to Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains. Last year, 534 patients traveled from out of state to seek an abortion at the Southern Nevada health centers.

Patients mostly traveled from Texas, Arizona and Utah, according to the nonprofit organization. The largest group — 175 patients — came from Texas, where abortion is banned in almost all circumstances. The majority of the other patients came from Arizona and Utah, both of which have bans in place after 15 and 18 weeks of pregnancy, respectively.

“It’s been devastating to watch the impact that these cruel bans are having on patients and communities across the country,” said Fawn Bolak, Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains spokesperson, in a statement. “No one should have to travel hundreds of miles, face jail time, or jump on a plane for the first time in their life, in order to access basic health care — but this is the reality we are living in right now.”

A 1990 voter referendum protects abortion in Nevada up to 24 weeks, and following the Dobbs v. Jackson decision, the Silver State has taken measures to protect people who flock from out of state to receive care.

Republican Gov. Joe Lombardo signed the Democratic legislators’ bill that protected out-of-state abortion seekers in Nevada, barring the state from cooperating in investigations from anti-abortion states that seek to prosecute people traveling to Nevada for the procedure.

Bolak said that over the last year, Planned Parenthood built up its patient navigation program to help coordinate the logistics of patients’ traveling for care, including arranging flights, booking hotels and securing child care.

The Wild West Access Fund of Nevada, an organization that helps people access abortion care, saw more than 1,000 clients in 2023, 20 percent of whom were from out of state. When the group started in 2021, it saw two out-of-state clients the entire year.

Maria Nieto, a Las Vegas resident and volunteer with the Wild West Access Fund, said the group had to create a separate out-of-state line because it was getting so many requests.

Political strategy

In the 2022 midterms, abortion was a major talking point for political parties in Nevada, with Democrats criticizing Republicans who supported national restrictions, which could override Nevada’s statute, and with Republicans criticizing Democrats who supported abortions late in pregnancy.

Melissa Clement, president of Nevada Right to Life, said the number of women coming to Nevada to seek an abortion is tragic.

“This is not a happy statistic,” she said. “Every single abortion means one heart stops and another heart breaks. I can’t imagine that a woman who comes to Nevada for abortion is ever going to want to come back because the memories will be too horrible.”

Although abortion is protected in Nevada, Democrats will still use it as a scare tactic, Clement said.

“There’s no way that there will be 60 people in the Senate any time soon that will vote for anything on abortion, quite honestly,” Clement said. “It won’t happen.”

In general, bills in the U.S. Senate require the support of at least 60 senators.

David Damore, a political science professor at UNLV, said Democrats are hoping to make abortion access and abortion rights highly salient in 2024. It worked in 2022, helping minimize a potential electoral disaster for the party both in Nevada and across the country, he said.

Both the Ohio and Kansas initiatives, where voters came out to the polls to protect abortion, show how potent the abortion issue is, Damore said.

“When abortion rights are on the ballot, it mobilizes turnout among supporters that crosses party lines,” Damore said in an email. “More generally, opposition to reproductive rights serves as a powerful heuristic for extremism across a host of issues such as gender identity, book bans, and restricting ballot access.”

Nieto said abortion will be a big issue in the 2024 election, as the Wild West Access Fund works to protect Nevadans’ rights to have an abortion, as well as have access to health care as a whole.

Progressive groups are working to further protect Nevadans’ rights to an abortion. A pro-choice coalition tried to put a petition initiative on the 2024 ballot that would codify the right to abortion and other forms of reproductive-related medical care in the Nevada Constitution, but the initiative was rejected by a Carson City judge. The group is appealing the decision.

Contact Jessica Hill at jehill@reviewjournal.com. Follow @jess_hillyeah on X.

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