On the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, a look back at Nevada’s abortion laws

RENO, NEVADA, UNITED STATES - 2022/05/03: Protesters hold signs expressing their opinion outside the federal court house during the demonstration. Protesters gathered in front of the federal courthouse in reaction to the leaked Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) document. Based on the leaked document, it will strike down Roe V. Wade on abortion rights. The initial draft majority opinion inscribes the statement of Justice Samuel Alito that says, " Roe was egregiously wrong from the start. Its reasoning was exceptionally weak, and the decision has had damaging consequences,". (Photo by Ty O'Neil/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

By Lorraine Longhi

January 22, 2024

In 1990, Nevada voters chose to codify the right to have an abortion into state law by a 2-to-1 margin, a move that can only be undone by another vote. But national restrictions could be on the horizon.

On Jan. 22, 1973, the US Supreme Court recognized a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion and legalized the procedure nationwide.

Monday marks 51 years since the landmark Supreme Court Roe v. Wade was decided—and a little over a year and a half since it was overturned. The Court’s 2022 decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization returned the authority to regulate abortions back to individual states, which has turned the US into a patchwork of bans, restrictions, and access.

In Nevada, the right to abortion was reaffirmed by the voters decades after Roe and before Dobbs. But amid recent efforts to cement additional protections for abortion, here’s a refresher on the history of reproductive healthcare rights in the Silver State.

From pre-Roe to post-Roe

Following the Court’s ruling in Roe v. Wade in 1973, Nevada’s then-Attorney General Robert List declared the state’s existing anti-abortion statute unconstitutional.

In the years after, there were several efforts to place additional restrictions on abortion, including several failed attempts to pass laws that would have created barriers to abortion for girls under the age of 18, which were deemed unconstitutional.

In 1990, Nevada voters chose to codify the right to have an abortion into state law by a 2-to-1 margin, a move that can only be undone by another vote.

Under state law, any person in Nevada who is pregnant can have an abortion in the first 24 weeks of pregnancy. After that, abortions may still be performed only if a doctor determines the life or health of the pregnant person is at risk.

In 2019, the state’s then-Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak also signed the Trust Nevada Women Act into law, which decriminalized medication abortions – pills that are taken to end a pregnancy – in addition to removing other barriers to accessing an abortion like criminal penalties.

Post-Dobbs

Roe v. Wade was undone in summer of 2022, when the right-wing Supreme Court ruled to turn the issue of abortion back over to states in its ruling in Dobbs.

Shortly after, then-Gov. Steve Sisolak signed an executive order ensuring more protections for out-of-state patients traveling to Nevada for abortions and for health care providers administering them, a policy that Nevada’s current Republican Gov. Joe Lombardo later signed into law.

Now, pro-choice advocates are pushing for a ballot measure this year that would once again give voters the opportunity to enshrine abortion rights in the Nevada Constitution.

The measure would explicitly add protections for services like birth control, abortion care, postpartum care, childbirth, tubal ligation, and vasectomies to the state constitution in addition to decriminalizing abortion. A second ballot measure that focuses more narrowly on abortion and would enshrine the right to have an abortion until fetal viability–usually through 23 or 24 weeks of pregnancy–was introduced after the first effort faced legal challenges.

Advocates behind the measures are working to ensure that at least one of the measures winds up on voters’ ballots this November and that they don’t take their rights for granted.

“…For a lot of Americans, this is just a reality they’re waking up to, especially for young people who always had the protections of Roe v. Wade, they did not realize how much say local politicians have in their ability to access essential healthcare services,” Caroline Mello Roberson, director of state campaigns for Reproductive Freedom for All, said of Nevada’s ballot measure.

The proposed measures wouldn’t be the only subject on the 2024 ballot that could have consequences for Nevadans’ reproductive rights. The outcome of Nevada’s US House and Senate races, as well as the presidential race, could impact the future of abortion access in Nevada.

Nationally, anti-abortion Republicans have laid out their plans to make abortion inaccessible under a second Trump term, including by banning and criminalizing access to abortion medication and ending insurance coverage for reproductive care.

In a statement highlighting those stakes, President Joe Biden on Monday reiterated his support for reproductive rights and criticized Republican efforts to ban and restrict abortion access.

“In states across the country, women are being turned away from emergency rooms, forced to go to court to seek permission for the medical attention they need, and made to travel hundreds of miles for health care,” Biden said in a statement. “On this day and every day, Vice President Harris and I are fighting to protect women’s reproductive freedom against Republican officials’ dangerous, extreme, and out-of-touch agenda. We stand with the vast majority of Americans who support a woman’s right to choose, and continue to call on Congress to restore the protections of Roe in federal law once and for all.”

  • Lorraine Longhi

    Lorraine Longhi is a reporter for The Nevadan and native of the southwest. A graduate of Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism & Mass Communication, she spent eight years reporting in Arizona, including at The Arizona Republic and The Copper Courier, where she covered education, health care and state politics. She returned to Las Vegas, her hometown, last year as an education reporter for the Las Vegas Review-Journal, where she was later promoted to assistant city editor

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