Some abortion restrictions still possible in pro-choice Nevada

In this May 3, 2022, file photo, attendees of a rally in support of abortion rights chant “my ...

The U.S. Supreme Court is set to overturn the landmark abortion ruling Roe vs. Wade in the coming weeks.

So what does that mean for Nevada?

In the short term, not much, as Nevadans enshrined abortion rights into state law more than three decades ago, and undoing that law would take a significant political lift.

In the longer term, however, the fate of those protections in a post-Roe world remain less clear for Nevadans.

In 1990, Nevadans overwhelmingly voted in favor of a referendum on a state law that allows abortions within the first 24 weeks of pregnancy. The referendum vote effectively codified the Roe decision into state law, and ensured it can only be changed by another vote of the people.

“In the short run, things will stay largely the same. And I don’t think Nevada voters are going to change that policy,” said UNLV political science professor Rebecca Gill. “But it might be changed for us, in spite of the fact that the vast majority of the people in this country, as well as this state, don’t want that to happen.”

If the federal government were to pass a national abortion ban, it would supersede Nevada’s law, for example, Gill said.

With the national protections under Roe likely to be lifted in the coming weeks, the focus of the debate is turning towards how individual states will handle abortion rights.

While the the 1990 referendum approval prevents the Legislature from changing or repealing the abortion law itself, lawmakers could put in place other restrictions, such as mandatory waiting periods, mandated counseling or requiring parental notification or consent.

That is where the pro-life groups plan to concentrate their efforts, said Melissa Clement, executive director of Nevada Right to Life.

Clement said there hasn’t been much talk about efforts to repeal Nevada’s abortion statute. But there have been discussions with political candidates about other kinds of abortion restrictions, she added.

“I think there is a tremendous amount of desire in the state to make our laws more common sense,” Clement said. “There’s very few Nevadans who don’t think parents should be involved.”

Republicans back some restrictions

At a debate in May, five of the leading Republican candidates for governor were asked if they would support other restrictions on abortions such waiting periods. Here’s how each of them responded:

— Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo said he would view everything “through a pro-life lens.” But when pressed by moderators if there was anything specific he might consider, Lombardo said “not at this time.”

— Reno attorney Joey Gilbert said he would like to see the limit rolled back to 20 weeks, but he said that “at the end of the day Nevada has ingrained in our statutory law….the right to choose.”

— Former U.S. Sen. Dean Heller said he would look at “all of those” potential restrictions as he wants “to make Nevada a pro-life state.” Heller said he would be willing to raise money to try and overturn the state’s abortion statute.

— North Ls Vegas Mayor John Lee said he believes in “the heartbeat bill,” which generally would ban abortions after six weeks.

— Venture capitalist Guy Nohra said he’d consider a bill if it were on his desk but did not commit to anything specific.

Meanwhile, the Democratic incumbent those candidates are vying for the chance to face off against in November, Gov. Steve Sisolak, has been firmly entrenched on the pro-choice side, and said that the court overturning the Roe decision “would be devastating for millions of women across the nation.”

“In Nevada, we’ve made sure the government stays out of the personal decision of if, when, and how to start a family – just as it should be. As long as I am governor, Nevada will continue to protect reproductive freedom,” he said in a statement.

Americans generally pro-choice

While Republicans and pro-life groups eye additional abortion restrictions post-Roe, the majority of Americans lean the other way on the issue.

Americans’ views on abortion have remained relatively consistent over the last several decades and, if anything, have shifted slightly in favor of abortion protections, according to Gallup polls dating back to 1996.

The latest Gallup poll on abortions in May showed that 53 percent believe abortions should be legal under most or all circumstances. In 1994, Gallup’s poll showed that 46 percent felt that they should be legal in most or all circumstances.

Nevada’s 1990 referendum received overwhelming approval by voters, with more than 63 percent of the vote that year.

“The polling is clear that the reason that anti-abortion progress has been made has been because there’s been a highly motivated minority of people who were fighting against abortion access,” said Gill, the UNLV professor. “But if it’s a referendum, you don’t get extra votes for being extra passionate about it.”

Contact Colton Lochhead at Follow @ColtonLochhead on Twitter.