Bucking a national trend toward more restrictions on abortion, the Nevada law relaxes certain abortion requirements. Every Republican voted against the measure.
The Nevada Assembly has passed a wide-ranging bill to decriminalize abortion procedures, moving the measure one step closer to the governor’s desk on a day of nationwide protests against a wave of abortion restrictions enacted in other states.
No Republicans joined the near-unanimous bloc of Assembly Democrats who supported Senate Bill 179, also known as the Trust Nevada Women Act. The measure passed to polite nods of approval from pro-choice advocates gathered for a Tuesday rally in Carson City. It now heads back to the state Senate, where lawmakers will have to concur on a minor amendment before sending the bill to Gov. Steve Sisolak.
SB 179 would repeal existing prohibitions on self-induced abortions and drugs that cause a miscarriage.
The bill also strikes a requirement that makes doctors explain “the physical and emotional implications” of an abortion. If passed, doctors would be allowed to simply “describe the nature and consequences of the procedure” in a patient-signed consent form. They would no longer have to record the age of the patient seeking the procedure.
Pro-choice advocates, like many lawmakers, see the bill as an important bulwark against a rising tide of threats to longstanding federal abortion protections.
They pointed to last week’s passage of a near-total abortion ban in Alabama as just the latest reason Nevada needs to fortify its own abortion-friendly statute.
“All across the country women’s rights are being threatened by extremist politicians,” said Assemblywoman Shea Backus, D-Las Vegas. “These are draconian laws that have no business in a free society.
“Women, no matter where they live, deserve to feel safe. These are matters that should be decided by women themselves.
Women were the only ones who spoke from the Assembly floor ahead of Tuesday’s vote.
Republican Assemblywomen Jill Tolles and Robin Titus offered passionate statements against the measure, which they feared did not go far enough to ensure the age of patients seeking an abortion.
“I don’t support criminal penalties for women who have an abortion,” Tolles said. “If that was all this bill did, I would support it. However, this bill goes beyond cleaning up antiquated laws.
“Without the provision requiring a physician to ask the age of a patient, we may be missing clear red flags of abuse and trafficking.”
Nevada’s abortion statute, first enacted in 1973 and upheld by voters in a 1990 referendum, allows a woman to have a physician-provided abortion within the first 24 weeks of pregnancy.
Abortions provided outside that time frame are only legal if the mother’s life or health is in danger. Violations of the law are punishable by up to 10 years in prison and as much as $10,000 in fines. No one has ever been prosecuted under the statute.
SB 179 would do away with all that, prompting fierce resistance from pro-life advocates, including a few who earlier begged lawmakers to stand against “murder” and “legalized infanticide.”
Tuesday’s vote came amid renewed concerns about federal funding for abortion organizations and whether an increasingly conservative U.S. Supreme Court might overturn Roe v. Wade — the landmark 1973 ruling that limited state and federal restrictions on abortion.
But Nevada’s decades-old, voter-approved abortion law, known as Question 7, would likely insulate the state from the impact of reversing Roe.
The popular measure, passed in 1990 with support from nearly two-thirds of Nevada voters, effectively sealed Roe’s protections into state law. It would take another statewide vote to reverse the referendum.
Abortion foes have lost such a fight before, most recently in 2012, when they failed to gather the signatures needed to put a Question 7-killing measure to voters.
Any future efforts to undo the initiative would require a pair of majority votes in the state Legislature or the collection of at least 112,000 autographs from Nevada voters.
Assemblywoman Dina Neal, D-North Las Vegas, was the only Democrat who voted against SB 179 on Tuesday. Democratic Sens. Marcia Washington and Mo Denis opposed the bill’s April passage out of the state Senate.
The measure comes as several other Republican states have taken record measures to curtail abortion rights and would represent a win for abortion-rights activists at the state level. Anti-abortion measures at the state level have galvanized abortion-rights supporters in recent weeks as states such as Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana and Missouri have passed legislation restricting access to abortion in an attempt to force the Supreme Court to hear cases that could overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion nationwide.
The measure in Nevada would also repeal some criminalized activities related to abortion, such as selling miscarriage-inducing drugs and advising women on pursuing abortions and self-inducing miscarriages, which are both felonies that could draw a fine of up to $10,000 and 10 years in prison.
The bill’s passage comes about a week after Alabama ushered in a controversial abortion law that could punish doctors who perform abortions with life in prison. The state Senate’s all-male Republican contingent passed the measure and Republican Gov. Kay Ivey signed it a day later.
A Georgia law passed earlier this month would ban abortions if a fetal heartbeat is detected — which can be as early as six weeks, when many women do not yet know they are pregnant.
Nevada State Sen. Yvanna Cancela, who sponsored the bill in her state, called its passage in the House a “BFD,” or “big freaking deal.” “BFD! Proud to be a Nevadan everyday, but especially today. Pretty incredible,” she tweeted.
Democratic Nevada Rep. Dina Titus praised the bill Tuesday.
“While some states across the country are passing restrictive abortion bans, Nevada is standing up to the dangerous anti-choice agenda. #StopTheBans,” she tweeted.
Image: Abortion rights activists gather during a rally to support the passage of S.B. 179, or the Trust Nevada Women (TNWA) Act, in front of the Nevada State Legislature Building in Carson City on May 21, 2019.