NV Lawmakers Approve Abortion Decriminalization Bill

May 22, 2019

A measure that would officially decriminalize abortion in Nevada and loosen portions of the state's informed consent laws will soon be on Governor Steve Sisolak’s desk. The "trust Nevada Women Act comes at a time when other states have tightened abortion laws, and, in some cases, virtually banned the practice outright.

On a largely party vote Tuesday, lawmakers in the Assembly approved SB179. The measure seeks to repeal sections of a state law making abortion a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

It would also makes changes to the state’s informed consent laws by removing provisions that require a doctor to explain the physical and emotional implications of an abortion.

In many respects, the bill is largely symbolic, but over the past few weeks it’s been drumming up national attention. That’s because it’s the exact opposite of what many other states have done in recent months.

“I think it’s impossible to deny what’s happening," said the bill’s sponsor, Democratic Senator Yvanna Cancela of Las Vegas. She was talking about the recent passage of laws in states like Alabama, Mississippi and Georgia, which have tightened access to abortions. She said the Trust Nevada Women Act is, in part, a response to recent efforts to crack down on a woman’s right to choose.

“For me, that put a sense of urgency in making sure that anything we can do to enhance and protect women’s reproductive freedoms we need [to] do as a body,” Cancela said. 

That’s a message that resonates with abortion rights groups. As part of an effort to voice support for the measure, dozens of activists rallied on the steps of the legislative building in Carson City ahead of the Tuesday's vote. 

“I have a very joyous feeling about Nevada affirming that we will not see abortion as a crime and that it's legal in our state,” said Vivian Leal, an activist with Indivisible Northern Nevada, "that we stand with women, [and] that we trust women to make their own health care decisions, especially this one, which affects our futures so much."

Despite the full-throated support from abortion rights groups, the measure does not come without some controversy. Among the repeal of criminal penalties, Democrats also deleted a requirement that doctors record the age of any patient requesting the procedure.

It’s that provision, said Republican Assemblywoman Robin Titus of Wellington, that prevented her from voting in support of the bill.

“As a physician, I am not allowed to treat a minor, anyone under 18, unless it is life-threatening, without parental or guardian permission,” Titus argued. “I cannot even give them so much as a Tylenol without permission. In current statute, there is specific language regarding access to abortion regarding age. There is a reason for that."

Echoing those concerns, representatives with the group Nevada Right to Life argued that SB179 removes protections against unsafe practices, making Nevada a "wild West abortion state where almost anything goes."

Democratic Assemblywoman Shea Backus, on the other hand, says it’s important to repeal antiquated laws.

“These are draconian laws that infringe upon women's fundamental human rights and have no business in a free society,” she said. “Nevadans don't want to follow the likes of Mississippi, Alabama, or Texas when it comes to women's rights.”

The measure now heads back to the Senate, which will need to approve an amendment before it can head to the governor.