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October 21, 2019

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Nevada Assembly approves pro-choice rewrite of abortion law

Nevada Pro-Choice Rally

John Locher / AP

Karina Provost leads a chant during a rally in support of abortion rights Tuesday, May 21, 2019, in Las Vegas.

Updated Tuesday, May 21, 2019 | 4:31 p.m.

On the heels of a wave of anti-abortion legislation approved in some states, the Nevada Assembly today passed a measure to decriminalize abortion and to remove some decades-old requirements associated with the procedure.

Senate Bill 179, the Trust Nevada Women Act, would eliminate existing criminal penalties in the state imposed on those who help terminate a pregnancy without consultation from a physician. It would also do away with requirements that physicians talk to patients about the “physical and emotional implications” of abortion and that they confirm and record a woman’s age and marital status prior to the procedure.

SB179 passed 27-13, with Democratic Assemblywoman Dina Neal and all 12 Republican Assembly members present voting against the measure.

Having already passed the Nevada Senate in April by a 12-9 vote, the bill is expected to reach the desk of pro-choice Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak this week.

SB179’s passage came days and weeks after Republican-controlled legislatures in Alabama, Georgia, Missouri, Ohio and elsewhere passed abortion restrictions and total bans. Some of the measures violate Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion nationwide, but anti-abortion advocates hope the conservative-learning justices on the court will uphold the new laws.

As the Nevada Senate voted on SB179, pro-choice activists held rallies in Las Vegas and Carson City in support of a woman’s right to choose. Those rallies were part of a nationwide day of action organized by pro-choice activists in response to the recent flurry of anti-abortion legislation.

“There have been protests all of the country today, and we may be the only state that had something to celebrate,” said Caroline Mello Roberson, state director of NARAL Pro-Choice Nevada.

If signed by the governor, SB179 would be the first piece of abortion-rights legislation enacted in Nevada since 1973. That year, the state legislature approved a measure generally codifying the right to an abortion during the first 24 weeks of pregnancy. Voters affirmed that measure in a 1990 referendum.

In light of the timeliness of SB179, dozens of supporters took to social media during and after the senate vote.

Assemblywoman Yvanna Cancela, primary sponsor of the bill, tweeted that she is “proud to be a Nevadan everyday, but especially today. Pretty incredible.”

Opponents of SB179, including Nevada Right to Life, criticized the measure for eliminating requirements that doctors verify a woman’s age and receive “informed consent” prior to the procedure.

Under existing Nevada law, anyone under 18 must obtain parental approval prior to getting an abortion, but that requirement was deemed unconstitutional and unenforceable in 1985.

Nevada Right to Life also argues that softening penalties for those who assist in “back alley abortions” will put women’s lives at risk, and that the law could allow doctors and others to take advantage of young women.

“There are some significant safety issues, especially when it comes to young girls and women, in [SB179],” said Melissa Clement, spokeswoman for Nevada Right to Life. “As a woman, I feel like the Nevada Legislature turned its back on me, my daughter and all women.”

Roberson, by contrast, described SB179 as a victory for women. She attributed its success so far to not only the Democratic-controlled Nevada Legislature but also the female majority in the State Senate and Assembly, a first in the nation.

“I think it’s a really big moment of hope,” Roberson said. “I feel that Nevada is a silver beacon out here for those of us that believe in reproductive freedom.”