If the U.S. Supreme Court next year overturns the decades-old abortion protections established under the landmark Roe v. Wade case, Nevada’s abortion-rights law will remain in force.
But that doesn’t mean the Silver State’s pro-choice voters should be complacent, abortion-rights activists said.
The issue is a part of every race up and down the ballot in 2022, said Caroline Mello Robertson, Southwest Regional Director for National Abortion Rights Action League, NARAL Pro-Choice America. Robertson provides strategic direction for the group’s organizing in Nevada.
“It’s important to remember that abortion is and will remain safe and legal in our state,” Robertson said. “Nevada is one of the few places in the country with voter-protected access to abortion. And so this year we may become a really important place for that access.”
But nationally, she said, that access is under threat. And many Nevada primary candidates, both in state-wide and legislative races, want to restrict or ban abortion. NARAL has issued candidate endorsements for some of those 2022 contests. On the other side of the issue, Nevada Right to Life, an anti-abortion group, also issued candidate endorsements for legislative races in the primary election.
As the election approaches, Robertson said, NARAL and other advocacy groups will keep reminding voters that decisions they make in the voting booth affect the choices that women can make about their bodies.
The Supreme Court
“Reproductive freedom is very much on the ballot in 2022, as it is every election year,” Robertson said. “We like to remind voters of that as they are making choices at the polls.”
The U.S. Supreme Court Dec. 1 is scheduled to hear arguments in a Mississippi case, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which directly challenges the Roe v. Wade decision. The court in that 1973 case ruled that the Constitution of the United States protects a pregnant woman’s liberty to choose to have an abortion without excessive government restriction.
The U.S. Supreme Court Dec. 1 is expected to hear arguments in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a Mississippi case. The plaintiffs have asked the court to overrule its landmark decisions in the Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey decisions, which held that Constitution protects the right to have an abortion before the fetus can survive outside the womb. The Casey decision forbids states from creating legal restrictions that pose an undue burden for “the purpose or effect of placing a substantial obstacle in the path of a woman seeking an abortion of a nonviable fetus.” Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Michigan, Mississippi, Oklahoma, West Virginia and Wisconsin still have pre-Roe abortion bans on their books, which could be enforced if Roe were overturned.
Over the last four years, conservative legislators in Texas and elsewhere enacted a wave of bans on all, most or some abortions. Some states also have adopted other types of abortion restrictions, including mandating ultrasound examinations for women who decide to get abortions, requiring abortion providers to give patients misleading and inaccurate information as part of abortion counseling and enacting restrictive laws that resulted in the closure of clinics.
Abortion rights law in 1990
In Nevada, abortion has been a protected right since 1990, when voters approved a law making abortions legal and accessible up until the 24th week of a pregnancy. After the 24th week, an abortion may be performed “only if the physician has reasonable cause to believe that an abortion currently is necessary to preserve the life or health of the pregnant woman,” according to that law.
Those rights can’t be taken away without another statewide referendum, Robertson noted.
“In 1990, Nevada voters affirmed that law,” she said. “… So it put essentially a barbed wire fence around that part of the statute, meaning it can only be amended with voter approval.” If a future Legislature wanted to amend or repeal the law, “it needs to go to voters and the voters need to approve it.
“So if we had an anti-choice Legislature, they could technically amend it and then send it to the voters. But because we have such strong voter support for reproductive freedom, and abortion access in particular, over decades, it’s unlikely that will happen.”
Support for choice
Robertson noted that a 2019 poll commissioned by NARAL found 83% of Nevadans believe in legal access to abortion, including 84% of Latinos. “So what we know is that no matter what’s been going on in the outside of Nevada, here we have safe and legal access to abortion,” she said. State surveys compiled by the Pew Research Center indicate that 6 in 10 Americans support access to abortions in all or most cases.
NARAL, which has been active in the state since 2016, has lobbied to protect and expand reproductive rights. Over the last five years, the state organization’s membership has grown from 900 to 44,000 members, according to Robertson.
“(We did that) through grassroots advocacy, door-to-door outreach, phone banking, and lots of other things to sign people up to join our cause,” she said. “We’ve been investing in having staff in the state and have been able to advance an agenda starting in the 2017 legislative session. But moving on up every session, we have advanced bills to protect reproductive freedom.”
Other Nevada laws
Those bills made it into law in 2017 include a measure introduced by Sen. Julia Ratti (D-Washoe), the senate majority leader. That law codifies all the women’s health protections in the federal Affordable Care Act into state law and to allow for 12-month dispensing of birth control pills. In the 2019 session, the group backed another bill that “updated antiquated laws that were on the books, and another law passed this year requires that survivors of sexual assault be offered emergency contraception.
“And so we have some real tangible results that have come from having our presence on the ground and having conversations with both legislators and community members about the need to protect reproductive freedom and expand access,” Robertson said. “So the conversation in Nevada has been very different than many other places in the country, I believe, because of this work.”
Getting to the polls
Planned Parenthood offers reproductive health services. Other abortion-rights groups and the American Civil Liberties Union, file court cases challenging restrictive laws. NARAL’s role, Robertson said, is advocacy.
“We advocate for organizations like Planned Parenthood, and other independent providers, to be able to provide care,” she said. “We really get to focus solely on the political and legislative conversation and community organizing, whereas a lot of other folks in our movement are both the providers and advocators… We organize and mobilize, we don’t litigate or operate.”
Robertson said NARAL and other advocacy organizations will be mobilizing to get people to the polls in 2022. Although Nevadans’ rights are protected, she said, abortion rights are under siege nationally and other pro-choice measures are needed in the Silver State.
“(In Nevada), we cannot become complacent even though we’ve had great success,” she said. “There’s still more that we need to do to really expand access to care and so I invite Nevadans to join us as we advocate for greater care so that everyone has the ability to choose if, when and how to become a parent.”