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As Other States Move to Restrict Abortion Access, Assembly Passes SB 179 to Affirm Nevada Women’s Reproductive Rights

Yesterday, we took a closer look at other states’ attempts to ban abortions and how the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates are reacting. Today, the Nevada Legislature took a historic step towards protecting Nevada women from a possible U.S. Supreme Court ruling to weaken or overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that guarantees the nationwide right to legal abortion.

So what did the Assembly do today, what might Governor Steve Sisolak (D) sign into law later this week, and why does this matter?

SB 179: Why is this a thing?
Photo by Jeff Kubina, licensed under Creative Commons, and made available by Wikimedia

As we discussed yesterday, multiple states featuring Republican “trifectas” (as in, a Republican Governor and GOP majorities in both legislative houses) are passing increasingly severe abortion restrictions with the intent of provoking a U.S. Supreme Court challenge. And with President Donald Trump already appointing two justices (Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh) who’ve signaled willingness to overturn Roe v. Wade, the immediate future of national abortion rights will soon rest with Chief Justice John Roberts’ gavel.

Yet while feminist activists in most of the rest of the country are pushing the 2020 Democratic contenders to develop plans of action to protect women’s reproductive rights from Trump’s and the religious right’s quest to outlaw abortion, Nevada Democrats have the opportunity to take action now. And while Nevada Democrats have struggled to act more boldly on other pressing matters, they are on the cusp of succeeding in protecting women’s health care from a possible post-Roe federal legal environment.

Earlier this session, State Senator Yvanna Cancela (D-Las Vegas) and several more Senate Democrats introduced SB 179 to update state law on informed consent. Under current law, doctors must certify in writing the patient’s marital status and age before performing an abortion and “explain the physical and emotional implications of having the abortion”. SB 179 removes the former provision entirely and reworks the latter to explaining the “discomforts and risks that may accompany or follow the procedure”. And perhaps most importantly, SB 179 removes criminal penalties for abortion that the Legislature that have mostly lingered in the state’s law books for over 40 years, despite the clear intent of 1990’s Question 7 to enshrine the right of safe and legal abortion in state law.

“I’m old enough to remember what life was like before Roe v. Wade. It is not something I want to see our state or our nation return to.”
– Assembly Member Connie Munk (D-Las Vegas)
Thirty-two female members of the Nevada Legislature pose for photos before the start of the 80th Legislative Session, in Carson City, Nev., on Monday, Feb. 4, 2019. The group represents the first female majority Legislature in the country.
Photo by Cathleen Allison/Nevada Momentum

As feminists protested across the nation to denounce efforts in Ohio, Georgia, Alabama, Missouri, and elsewhere to ban most or nearly all abortions, including at rallies outside the Nevada Legislature in Carson City and the Grant Sawyer State Building in Las Vegas, the Assembly proceeded with its third reading of SB 179. And for anyone who wonders what that means, “third reading” and “general file” nearly always means a full floor vote.

Shortly after that rally outside, legislators and activists came inside for the floor vote. Assembly Member Connie Munk (D-Las Vegas) opened debate by declaring, “This is a common-sense bill that will bring Nevada’s law in line with Nevada’s values.” She then pointed to the current headlines on Georgia and Alabama as she noted, “I’m old enough to remember what life was like before Roe v. Wade. It is not something I want to see our state or our nation return to.”

Assembly Member Robin Titus (R-Yerington), who’s worked as a physician in her home district, also said she supports Roe, but stated her opposition to SB 179 due to its removal of written age tracking requirements and lack of mandatory parental notification. She lamented the bill sponsors’ failure to address her concerns as she declared, “If we always did the right thing, there would be no need for all of us to be in this building.” She added, “I trust women. I don’t trust those who want to take advantage of Nevada girls and women.”

“The people of our state are pro-choice precisely because they trust Nevada women.”
– Assembly Member Shea Backus (D-Las Vegas)
Photo by Andrew Davey

Assembly Member Shea Backus (D-Las Vegas) gently rebutted the talking points used by Titus and other Assembly Republicans by pointing out the potential consequences of inaction, as women in Alabama, Georgia, and other states facing severe abortion restrictions are beginning to grapple with. Backus then reframed this issue as one of economic justice as she noted, “These state laws further separate those with financial means from those who don’t.” She then issued one final plea in support of the bill by declaring, “The people of our state are pro-choice precisely because they trust Nevada women.”

The Assembly then voted 27-13 to pass SB 179. Assembly Member Dina Neal (D-Las Vegas) voted with all Republicans present against the bill, while all other Democrats voted for the bill. Assembly Member John Hambrick (R-Las Vegas) was absent, and Assembly District 17 is vacant following the tragic passing of Assembly Member Tyrone Thompson (D-Las Vegas).

Because SB 179 has been amended in the Assembly, it must return to the Senate, where Senators will decide whether to concur or not concur with the amended language. Yet since this amendment merely adds Assembly Member Richard Carrillo (D-Las Vegas) as a co-sponsor (who later complained that he couldn’t make his own floor statement today), it will likely earn the Senate’s concurrence and reach Governor Sisolak’s desk later this week.

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