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Nevada is lifting abortion restrictions, even as other states pass near-total bans

With the country’s first majority-women legislature, Nevada is moving in the opposite direction of states like Alabama and Georgia.

Abortion rights activists gather outside the U.S. Supreme Court on May 21, 2019, to protest recent anti-abortion laws passed across the country in recent weeks.
Abortion rights activists gather outside the US Supreme Court on May 21, 2019, to protest anti-abortion laws passed across the country in recent weeks.
Aurora Samperio/NurPhoto via Getty Images
Anna North is a senior correspondent for Vox, where she covers American family life, work, and education. Previously, she was an editor and writer at the New York Times. She is also the author of three novels, including the New York Times bestseller Outlawed.

Nevada lawmakers passed a bill on Tuesday that bucks a nationwide trend: While states like Alabama and Georgia are passing near-total bans on abortion, Nevada’s bill will actually remove some restrictions.

The legislation gets rid of requirements that doctors tell pregnant patients about the “emotional implications” of an abortion, according to NPR. It also removes criminal penalties for inducing abortion without the advice of a doctor.

The Nevada bill now goes back to the state Senate for final approval before being sent to Gov. Steve Sisolak, who is likely to sign it.

Supporters of the bill in Nevada, which has the country’s first majority-women legislature, characterized the bill as a step in the right direction as the rest of the country moves in the wrong one.

“What’s happening across the country should serve as a reminder to women of this generation that the rights we have related to reproductive freedom were not given to us; they were fought for,” Democratic state Sen. Yvanna Cancela, the bill’s sponsor, told Vox. “The fight for reproductive justice has to be ongoing.”

The Nevada law is one of a number of bills passed or proposed in recent months that supporters see as part of that fight, loosening restrictions on abortion or safeguard abortion access. Such moves have received less attention than bans on abortion in states like Alabama, but they, too, are part of a nationwide trend, as abortion rights supporters move to shore up abortion access in preparation for a possible challenge to Roe v. Wade.

The Nevada bill would remove several restrictions on abortion

The Nevada bill, known as Senate Bill 179 or the Trust Nevada Women Act, was introduced earlier this year and passed the state Senate in April. The state Assembly passed the bill on Tuesday with a vote of 27-13, with all but one Democrat voting in favor and all Republicans voting against, according to NPR. The bill includes several provisions, including the following:

  • Removes a requirement that patients be told about the “emotional implications” of getting an abortion. While abortion opponents have argued that abortion can cause emotional or mental health problems, research has found no evidence that the procedure leads to lasting mental health issues. Under the Nevada bill, doctors would still have to describe the “nature and consequences of the procedure” and have patients sign a consent form.
  • Gets rid of criminal penalties for anyone who “supplies or administers” abortion medication without the advice of a doctor. Abortion rights advocates say such penalties can criminalize patients who perform their own abortions by taking medication ordered online or otherwise obtained without a prescription.
  • Removes a requirement that doctors find out the marital status and age of patients before performing abortions.

Historically, Nevada has been relatively friendly to abortion rights — the state passed a law guaranteeing abortion rights in 1973 and voters reaffirmed it in 1990. But, Cancela said, outdated criminal penalties for some abortions remained on the books. She argues that the Trust Nevada Women Act is necessary to remove them and to update the language of the law to match contemporary medical consensus and practice.

Opponents of the bill in the state Assembly argued that removing the requirement for doctors to ask a patient’s age could make it harder to identify and help survivors of abuse and trafficking. Cancela, the bill’s sponsor, countered that nothing in the bill prevents doctors from asking a patient’s age — the bill simply gets rid of the requirement that they obtain written proof of age.

The bill goes back to the state Senate for approval before being sent to Gov. Sisolak, a Democrat and supporter of abortion rights.

In recent months, “heartbeat” bills and other restrictions on abortion have captured nationwide attention.

But Nevada is one of several states that have moved to loosen abortion restrictions, not tighten them. While a Virginia bill to loosen restrictions on third-trimester abortions was tabled after it became embroiled in controversy, New York in January passed the Reproductive Health Act, which allows abortions after 24 weeks if the fetus is not viable or there is a risk to the pregnant patient’s health, among other provisions (previously, most abortions after 24 weeks were banned in the state). Legislation to protect or expand abortion access is also in the works in Rhode Island, California, Vermont, and Maine.

While many of the abortion restrictions passed in recent months are meant to challenge Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that established the right to an abortion, many laws backed by abortion rights supporters are meant to protect access to the procedure if Roe falls. In that case, federal protections for abortion could be removed and the issue would be left to the states.

The Nevada bill in particular has attracted attention because the state has the first majority-women legislature in US history. Female politicians around the country have not always supported abortion rights — Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey, for instance, signed into law a ban on abortion at all stages of pregnancy earlier this month. And among voters, the gender gap in views on abortion is actually smaller than on other issues.

Still, many people — including some who oppose abortion — have expressed discomfort with the idea of male-dominated state legislatures dictating women’s reproductive decisions. In Nevada, that isn’t a problem.

“I’d like to think that regardless of gender composition, we can have productive discussions about women’s issues,” Cancela said, “but I do think that having a majority-female legislature has brought a broader set of issues forward.”

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