Nevadans spar over bill to update “antiquated” abortion laws

carrillo is an honorary freelance photographer or something
State Sen. Yvanna Cancela presents her bill to decriminalize abortion to the Assembly Health and Human Services Committee May 8. (Richard Carrillo twitter photo)

While several states across the nation have enacted laws and taken other measures to restrict access to abortion, Nevada lawmakers are working to safeguard a woman’s right to choose.

During a hearing Wednesday, supporters and opponent sparred over the Trust Nevada Women Act, which updates the state’s laws and decriminalize old provisions.

Supporters say the legislation is needed to assure women have access to their constitutionally protected right to a legal and safe abortion.

State Sen. Yvanna Cancela, who is sponsoring Senate Bill 179, said the legislation is all about “repealing antiquated language that criminalizes women for a legal act.”

The bill gets rid of existing Nevada statutes that criminalize components of getting an abortion, such as penalties for selling medications to produce a miscarriage.

“While Nevada became the first state to have a female-majority Legislature earlier this year, it is also still one of six states with antiquated laws that criminalize abortion,” Lt. Gov. Kate Marshall wrote in a letter of support for the bill. “While the enforcement of such laws may not occur on a frequent basis, women in Nevada should not have to fear criminal penalties for exercising their right to choose.”

SB 179 passed 12-9 in the Senate April 16. Two Democratic lawmakers, Sens. Marcia Washington and Mo Denis, voted alongside the majority of Republicans against the bill — Republican Sen. Ben Kieckhefer supported the bill.

The legislation, which was heard in the Assembly Health and Human Services Committee Wednesday, also updates Nevada’s informed consent laws and gets rid of a mandate for physicians to tell patients about the emotional impact of an abortion. “Doctors can still use their best judgement when having those conversations,” Cancela said. “It doesn’t prevent that, it just doesn’t mandate it.”

Catherine O’Mara, the executive director of the Nevada State Medical Association, which represents hundreds of physicians throughout the state, spoke in support of the bill and agreed removing that mandate wouldn’t change the standard of care doctors give patients.

During the hearing, a sizable portion of the opposition focused on slamming a provision that would have removed parental notification of minors wanting to have an abortion — even though that provision has already been removed from the bill.

Some opponents, including Republican Assemblyman Gregory Hafen, said no longer mandating that doctors go over the emotional aspects of an abortion could lead to mental health issues later.

Cancela, referencing to research published by the American Psychological Association, said there isn’t evidence that a single, legal abortion harms women’s mental health. Hafen said he doesn’t accept those findings.

Hafen and other opponents also warned the bill could prevent legal action from being taken if “a boyfriend slips his girlfriend a pill” without her knowing with the intent to cause an abortion.

Cancela explained other areas of criminal law would still apply and an individual could still face prosecution in that situation. But she added that receiving legal medication to produce a miscarriage requires a prescription from a doctor, and the patient must undergo a rigorous medical process in order to obtain that prescription — a process a boyfriend wouldn’t be able to go through.

Mary Richardson, a minister with the United Church of Christ, testified in support of the bill, saying “you can’t try to legislate faith and morality.”

“My faith tradition celebrates the gift that is the diversity of creation,” she said. “However, because this is my faith tradition, I do not believe it is right for me to demand that it is also your faith tradition. I do not believe that it is right for anyone to legislate what is a moral decision, forcing your moral point of view on me, or mine on yours.”

The original version of this story failed to report Sen. Ben Kieckhefer’s vote for SB179.

Michael Lyle
Michael Lyle (MJ to some) has been a journalist in Las Vegas for eight years.  He started his career at View Neighborhood News, the community edition of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. During his seven years with the R-J, he won several first place awards from the Nevada Press Association and was named its 2011 Journalist of Merit. He left the paper in 2017 and spent a year as a freelance journalist accumulating bylines anywhere from The Washington Post to Desert Companion. While he covers a range of topics from homelessness to the criminal justice system, he gravitates toward stories about race relations and LGBTQ issues. Born and mostly raised in Las Vegas, Lyle graduated from UNLV with a degree in Journalism and Media Studies. He is currently working on his master's in Communications through an online program at Syracuse University. In his spare time, Lyle cooks through Ina Garten recipes in hopes of one day becoming the successor to the Barefoot Contessa throne. When he isn’t cooking (or eating), he also enjoys reading, running and re-watching episodes of “Parks and Recreation.” He is also in the process of learning kickboxing.

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