Sunday, Dec. 12, 2021 | 2 a.m.
The Supreme Court seems poised to uphold Mississippi’s challenge to Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 ruling that affirmed a woman’s right to abortion.
The latest of several challenges to Roe’s stability occurred Friday, when the Supreme Court allowed Texas Senate Bill 8, a restrictive ban on abortions after six weeks, to stand. The court also, however, decided in-state clinics could sue over these limitations that contradict Roe. The Texas case will not be the last word on Roe — even in this term of the high court.
On Dec. 1, the Supreme Court heard another challenge to Roe — this time from Mississippi. The case, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, is over a 2018 Mississippi law that makes abortions past 15 weeks of pregnancy illegal — and offers another ominous warning signal for reproduction rights supporters in the rest of the country. If the Supreme Court sustains the Mississippi law, it will also overturn Planned Parenthood v. Casey, a 1992 ruling that reaffirmed Roe. It is anticipated that the court will issue a ruling in Dobbs in June.
But while the Dobbs case and Friday’s Texas victory could jeopardize legal abortions in many states, primarily Southern and Midwestern ones, abortion rights in Nevada would be unchanged.
Should the court ruling scrap Roe’s protections, 22 states, mostly in the Midwest and South, would likely institute legislative restrictions to abortion access, with 12 having explicit “trigger laws” that would make immediately outlaw abortion, according to The New York Times.
Not only is Nevada is not a “trigger law” state, it is one of only nine states that have abortion protections firmly embedded in its state constitution, making it largely immune from a ruling overturning Roe. In 1990 Nevadans approved Question 7, a statewide ballot initiative that effectively permits abortions in the first 24 weeks of a pregnancy — the same time frame espoused in Roe.
But people from trigger-law states seeking abortion or other reproductive care beyond their homes could have a huge effect on Nevada. Las Vegas makes a prime location for these travelers, said Adrienne Mansanares, chief experience officer at Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, which oversees Planned Parenthoods in Southern Nevada, Colorado and New Mexico.
In October, an analysis by Planned Parenthood Federation of America and In Our Own Voice: National Black Women’s Reproductive Justice Agenda indicated that more than 36 million women — and more who could become pregnant — will lose abortion access if the Supreme Court strikes down Roe. The states most susceptible, the analysis indicated, are Arkansas, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas and Utah, which all have trigger laws.
Mansanares said that when Texas passed Senate Bill 8, Nevada saw its first patients arrive from Texas for abortion care. Three out-of-state patients came to Southern Nevada, which has two Planned Parenthood clinics: one at Flamingo and Pecos roads, the other at Charleston Boulevard near Valley View Boulevard.
The clinics — which offer affordable or free services like abortion, birth control, gender-affirming care for transgender and nonbinary individuals, and general wellness exams — could be overwhelmed if a large influx of out-of-state patients seek treatment in Nevada, Mansanares said.
“What I worry about is that if more people have to travel to Las Vegas, that their pregnancies may go later, and then that could then create a sense of demand that we don’t have enough providers for,” she said.
Planned Parenthood offers in-clinic abortion procedures or medication abortion, in which a patient takes two different pills to end a pregnancy. Both are safe and effective ways to have an abortion, Mansanares said, and about half of Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains’ patients opt for the medication abortion. Either choice has varying levels of convenience, she said.
“There are patients who come in and they want to just be done with the pregnancy and go home,” Mansanares said. “There’s really no medical reason why someone would need to come in (to a clinic) or you’d choose a pill over an in-the-health-center procedure. It’s up to the patient most of the time.”
Amy Reed-Sandoval, UNLV assistant professor of philosophy, has conducted research on how patients cross state and national borders for pregnancy-related medical care, including prenatal, labor and delivery. This “abortion migration,” she calls the act of going to another state for abortion care, is an economic, physical and mental strain in an already stressful situation.
“Of course, abortion migration is already extremely common (in the U.S. and worldwide), but the dismantling of Roe will make it all the more prevalent,” she wrote in an email. “Undermining Roe sends a clear message: You lack the authority to make fundamental decisions about how to lead your own life — including the most intimate and even sacred aspects of your life. That message will reverberate across the country, and it will certainly be felt by women and pregnant people in Nevada, even if abortion remains legal here.”
Annette Magnus, executive director of Battle Born Progress, added in a statement, “Let me be clear once again: Pregnant people have the right to make their own health care decisions without interference from politicians or judges. We will continue to fight to protect abortion access, especially now that Nevada is a safe haven for people seeking those health care services.”
While other states were passing trigger laws, said Rebecca Gill, assistant professor of politics at UNLV, the Nevada Legislature in 2019 — which was the first in the country with a majority of female lawmakers — enacted the Trust Nevada Women Act that removed common barriers to abortions.
The act eliminated previous requirements for health care providers to ask the marital status and age of the patient as well as discuss the emotional weight of an abortion with them. It also instituted criminal repercussions for those who give abortion medication to patients without first consulting a doctor.
“I do think it is very important having a female majority in the state Legislature,” Gill said. “Even among the women that we have in the Legislature, there’s a great deal of experiential diversity, regional diversity, just diversity of interests and hues. And this really does help to contribute to their ability to have this kind of wider view of what people in Nevada need.”
Activists, professors and nonprofit leaders continue to converge in ongoing discussions of Dobbs and Roe and how both decisions will affect Nevada. At an abortion rights panel Dec. 3, hosted by Planned Parenthood and the nonprofit Make It Work, Nevada Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto affirmed her support for reproductive care.
“We have to stop treating women’s health care as optional,” she said in a pre-recorded video.
A Dec. 9 event hosted by grassroots organization Battle Born Progress also meshed local leaders for a discussion on abortion — Maria-Teresa Liebermann-Parraga, deputy director of Battle Born Progress; Daela Gibson of Planned Parenthood; Sylvia Lazos and Leslie Griffin, professors in the Boyd Law School at UNLV; and Carla Ramazan, founder of Wild West Access Fund.
“It’s clear that we must be ready for Roe to continue to be chipped away at by the Supreme Court and for abortion to be attacked in conservative states across the country,” Liebermann-Parraga said in a statement to the Sun before the discussion. “Nevada has made progress on abortion, but there is more to be done to remove barriers to actually accessing services for both Nevadans and those who seek to travel to Nevada to access abortion services.”