STEVE SEBELIUS: Cannizzaro bill preserves status quo on abortion
A bill by state Sen. Nicole Cannizzaro would protect women from states where abortion is illegal who come to Nevada to seek health care, but would not change Nevada’s underlying abortion laws.
Nicole Cannizzaro’s bill to protect out-of-state women who seek an abortion in Nevada isn’t going to end debate on the issue. Then again, that’s not the point. In fact, the bill isn’t about abortion at all.
Instead, Senate Bill 131 is a defense of the 10th Amendment, the rights of states and their people to exercise powers not granted to the federal government under the Constitution.
And in Nevada, the people of the state have spoken: In 1990, a substantial majority — 63 percent — voted to make abortion legal through 24 weeks of pregnancy, and thereafter if the mother’s health is threatened.
Whether SB131 is passed or not, that law won’t change. Abortion will remain legal in Nevada.
But not all states agree. In some states, abortion is banned with very limited exceptions. In others, the practice is legal at between only six to 20 weeks of pregnancy. Idaho, Utah and Arizona — Nevada’s closest geographical neighbors — all have some abortion restrictions on the books.
And after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the landmark Roe v. Wade decision in June — allowing states to regulate abortion — some in the anti-abortion movement began talking about criminal prosecutions of women or doctors who travel out of state to evade their states’ anti-abortion laws.
That’s what led former Gov. Steve Sisolak to issue an executive order in June that prevents Nevada from cooperating with an investigation from another state of anyone who has received or performed an abortion in Nevada. It also prevented health care oversight boards from disciplining doctors or nurses who provide abortions and prohibits the governor from issuing a warrant of extradition for a person who sought or performed an abortion in Nevada.
The bill from Cannizzaro, the Democratic Senate majority leader, closely mirrors the governor’s executive order and would codify that language into state law. Why do we need the law when the executive order is still in effect? Because executive orders can be repealed at any time. (Indeed, Gov. Joe Lombardo, while campaigning, said he would rescind the order before changing course and saying he would keep it.)
It should be noted that the bill doesn’t protect bad doctors or sex traffickers — its protections cover only procedures that “would have been lawful and consistent with standards for the practice of the relevant profession in this state.” And it allows the governor to extradite a person if “the acts forming the basis of the prosecution of the crime would also constitute a criminal offense under the laws of this State.” And it wouldn’t protect a woman who got an illegal abortion in her home state but then fled to Nevada for sanctuary.
Still, much of the testimony against the bill concerned the liberal abortion protections in Nevada law, protections that cannot be changed except by another vote of the people. (And it’s a good bet Nevadans have not become more conservative on the abortion issue in the three decades since they affirmed the state’s abortion stance.)
That’s why, regardless of your view on abortion, Cannizzaro’s bill should get bipartisan support. Consider it in another context: Only a handful of states feature casino gambling, but we wouldn’t cooperate with a state where casinos are illegal prosecuting a resident who won money at the tables on the Strip. Prostitution is legal in only smaller Nevada counties, but this state wouldn’t cooperate in a prostitution investigation brought by any of the 49 other states where the practice is illegal. To be sure, Nevada’s marketing is built on the allure of doing things that are illegal, immoral or fattening back home.
As for the underlying issue, the fight will continue, as it has since before Roe was decided in 1973. It’s a minority that wants a total ban on abortion with no exceptions, just as it’s a minority that wants no restrictions on abortion at all, through the moment of birth. Most people are somewhere in the middle, part of a consensus that grew like coral on the rickety legal foundation of Roe v. Wade. Most believe in few restrictions at the start of pregnancy, but more as the pregnancy progresses.
One might even say that Nevada’s law reflects that uneasy, unsatisfying compromise. Cannizzaro’s bill would simply preserve that consensus, even as the fight over the morality of abortion continues.
Contact Steve Sebelius at SSebelius@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0253. Follow @SteveSebelius on Twitter.