On May 21, the Assembly passed SB 179 on a near party-line 27-13 vote amidst a growing national partisan divide on women’s reproductive rights and the future of legal abortion in America. As several Republican-controlled state legislatures have rushed to pass severe new abortion restrictions to trigger a U.S. Supreme Court ruling to dramatically weaken or completely overturn Roe v. Wade, the Nevada Legislature moved in the opposite direction to safeguard women’s reproductive health care… And it’s no accident that this has occurred in a Democratic-run Legislature that’s working with Nevada’s new Democratic Governor.
What’s happened since our last report?
When the Assembly passed SB 179 on May 21, Republican leaders in Georgia, Ohio, Alabama, and Missouri had already succeeded in passing severe abortion bans that are meant to advance legal challenges in federal court that anti-abortion forces hope will result in the end of the nationwide right to legal abortion. Since then, Missouri’s ban has launched a courthouse fight to keep the Show Me State’s one remaining abortion clinic in St. Louis open (and it still is open thanks to a federal judge issuing a restraining order against state officials who seek to close it).
Meanwhile in Louisiana, Governor John Bel Edwards (D) not only signed similar legislation to ban nearly all abortions, but he also escalated the already percolating debate within the Democratic Party over whether the party should continue tolerating Edwards and other anti-abortion politicians within their ranks in the hopes of winning over any culturally conservative voters who might still be willing to vote for Democrats under the right circumstances. This debate already reached the forefront in Kentucky, where NARAL endorsed Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear (D) for Governor and helped him win the Democratic nomination over the more explicitly anti-choice State Rep. Rocky Adkins (D).
And now, this debate is influencing the already lively 2020 presidential campaign. Several Democratic candidates have already released detailed policy plans to secure women’s reproductive rights, including the nationwide right to safe, legal abortion. U.S. Senator Kamala Harris (D-California) released her own plan earlier this week that not only codifies Roe into federal law books, but also establishes a new Voting Rights Act style system that gives the U.S. Department of Justice final say over abortion laws passed by states and municipalities that have attempted to enact unconstitutional abortion restrictions in the past 25 years. Yet on the other end, some pro-choice activists fear the more ambiguous positions of former Vice President Joe Biden and U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) on protecting (let alone expanding) reproductive health care access.
“As women’s rights across the country are being systematically dismantled by state governments and federal courts, Nevada is leading the way forward instead of turning the clock back.”
– State Senator Yvanna Cancela (D-Las Vegas)
Though it’s taken ten days for SB 179 to be signed into law, this final outcome was never really in doubt. Governor Steve Sisolak (D) signed this bill to remove criminal penalties for abortion, most of which have been on the books for over forty years. As he signed the bill, Sisolak said, “In light of increasing attacks at the federal level and in other states such as Georgia, Alabama, Missouri, and Louisiana, SB179 reaffirms Nevada’s commitment to protecting reproductive freedom and access to reproductive health care. I have been disappointed by the recent uptick in efforts in other states to restrict women’s right to choose, and I am especially proud today to be a Nevadan, where we protect a woman’s right to make her own decisions about her own body.”
In addition to SB 179, Sisolak also signed into law SB 94 to allocate $6 million in statewide family planning grants, a 500% increase from the previous biennium. Two of the State Senators who’ve led this effort to protect Nevada’s women and their reproductive rights from other states’ campaign to push the U.S. Supreme Court to undermine Roe were present to commend Sisolak for signing their bills into law.
“The Trust Nevada Women Act sends a clear message to women in this state that we trust them to make their own health care decisions,” said State Senator Yvanna Cancela in her statement. She continued, “As the first female-majority legislature in our nation’s history, it was important to reaffirm our belief that women can make their own choices. As women’s rights across the country are being systematically dismantled by state governments and federal courts, Nevada is leading the way forward instead of turning the clock back.”
“All Nevada women should have access to essential services like cancer screenings and birth control regardless of where they live or what their income level is,” State Senator Julia Ratti (D-Sparks) said in her statement. “Senate Bill 94 will help women in every corner of the state obtain these critical health care services, and I thank Governor Sisolak for signing this bill into law today.”
This may be the latest big move emanating from Carson City, but the action is far from over. Stay tuned in the next 100 hours, as we’ll keep tabs on the final budget package and other remaining bills pending in these final days of the legislative session.
Updated at 4:10 PM to add some of Governor Steve Sisolak’s remarks upon signing SB 94 and SB 179 into law.