Constitutional protection of reproductive rights needed in Nevada post-Roe, argues Senate leader
Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro speaks outside the Legislative Building on March 23, hours before a hearing for Senate Joint Resolution 7, which would enshrine abortion and other reproductive rights into the Nevada Constitution (Photo courtesy NReal Media Strategies)
Citing the need for Nevada to be proactive against an emboldened anti-abortion rights movement nationwide, Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro made the case Thursday for a constitutional amendment that establishes reproductive freedom as a right.
Senate Joint Resolution 7, which she is sponsoring with 39 other Democrats, would grant through an amendment to the Nevada Constitution a “fundamental right to reproductive freedom,” which is described as encompassing not just abortion but also prenatal and postnatal care, birth control, and infertility care, among others.
For that right to be established in the state constitution, SJR 7 will have to be passed in two subsequent legislative sessions — the current one, then again in 2025 — and then be approved by voters in 2026.
The resolution on Thursday received its first hearing in a joint meeting of the Senate and Assembly Committees on Legislative Operations and Elections. In her presentation to the joint committee, Cannizzaro emphasized that the resolution would ultimately be decided by Nevadans, who she described as having “long-standing freedom-oriented values.”
Nevadans in 1990 through a referendum established the right to an abortion up to 24 weeks of pregnancy and beyond that if necessary to preserve the life of the mother. That right is largely protected from legislative action because the referendum was written so that it could only be changed through a direct vote of the people.
But the constitutional amendment would provide the highest level of legal protections.
An anti-abortion rights movement emboldened by last year’s falling of Roe v Wade is challenging reproductive rights on all fronts.
They will not stop at abortion rights, warned Lindsey Harmon, the executive director of Planned Parenthood Votes Nevada.
“We know the forces that overturned Roe have their sights set on other forms of care, like birth control and infertility,” she added.
State Sen. Heidi Seevers Gansert, a Republican, noted the Nevada Legislature in 2021 expanded birth control access by allowing pharmacists to dispense 12-month supplies to patients.
“Do you think there’s a threat to access in Nevada?” asked Seevers Gansert, adding that she doesn’t see the state “going in that direction.”
The existing protections for reproductive rights in Nevada were passed in a world where Roe was seen as an established precedent, Cannizzaro responded, and they hinged upon a right to privacy that the 2022 Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization ruling effectively undid.
Cannizzaro noted that West Wendover City Council earlier this month denied a permit request submitted by Planned Parenthood, which hoped to open a clinic to provide a range of primary and reproductive care for a rural community whose closest urban area is Salt Lake City, two hours away by car. Council members in a 4-1 vote rejected the permit on the grounds that they object to abortions, according to media reports.
The senator also alluded to Walgreen’s recent waffling on whether to carry abortion pills following initial threats of retribution from red states if they did, as well as reports from Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto’s office that AmerisourceBergen, the sole supplier of the abortion pill to pharmacies, does not plan to supply the abortion pill to pharmacies in Nevada.
The attack on reproductive rights is “not a threat unique to other states,” argued Cannizzaro.
In 2021, Nevada lawmakers also passed a bill taking antiquated abortion punishment laws out of state statute and removing requirements like a doctor having to ask about the marital status of the patient requesting an abortion.
Democratic Assemblywoman Daniele Monroe-Moreno, who signed on as a sponsor of the bill, said she feels lawmakers have an obligation to protect against those threats.
“I am a mom who has had miscarriages and lost babies,” she said. “I have a daughter who could only get pregnant through IVF. This (resolution) would protect my rights and hers.”
She added, “We’re living in a time where none of us thought we would be where we’re at. … I have rights that my grandmother didn’t have, and now my granddaughter won’t have.”
Cannizzaro refused to engage in questions from Republican lawmakers about whether passing the resolution would result in preteens receiving an abortion without parental consent, or women being able to get an abortion up until birth.
“To get into very specific hypotheticals ignores what SJR 7 is doing, which is establishing a right,” she said. “Just like we have the right of freedom of speech. That right doesn’t come with a list of particulars.”
The constitutional amendment could have legal consequences, but those cannot be determined in advance, she added. Courts would ultimately deal with issues on a case-by-case basis.
At least three other states have already enshrined reproductive rights beyond abortion within their state constitutions.
Last year, Michigan approved an amendment similar to that being proposed in Nevada. It guarantees the right to “reproductive freedom,” which it defines as “the right to make and effectuate decisions about all matters relating to pregnancy, including but not limited to prenatal care, childbirth, postpartum care, contraception, sterilization, abortion care, miscarriage management, and infertility care.” That vote effectively ended a legal debate there about the enforceability of a 1931 law banning abortions except in the case of rape or incest, which some believed should have gone into effect with the overturning of Roe v Wade.
Similarly, Vermont voters added “personal reproductive autonomy” into their state constitutional protections, and California voters added the right to abortion and contraception into theirs.
Last year’s election cycle also saw voters in red states like Kentucky and Montana shoot down statewide ballot measures that would have restricted abortion access.
[Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to provide clearer context for Seevers Gansert’s quote. She was referencing recent birth control access in Nevada.]
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