April Corbin Girnus, Nevada Current
January 23, 2024
Democrats are framing this year’s presidential election as a battle for abortion rights, citing former President Donald Trump’s record and arguing his return to office would pave the way for a nationwide ban on abortions. And more directly there are three proposed constitutional amendments working their way toward Nevadans’ ballots.
Monday marked what would have been the 51st anniversary of the passage of Roe v Wade, which protected the right to an abortion nationwide for nearly five decades. Roe’s fall was made possible by a United States Supreme Court that shifted significantly to the right as a result of appointments made during the Trump administration.
“Let me be clear: If Donald Trump receives a second term as president, he will do anything it takes to implement a federal abortion ban, and in turn, override Nevada state law protecting the right to choose,” said U.S. Rep. Susie Lee on Monday at a press conference criticizing Trump’s stance on abortion.
The right to an abortion is currently protected in Nevada through state law, which voters approved via a 1990 referendum. Changing that law, which mirrors the protections maintained by Roe, would require a direct vote of Nevadans. However, putting the right to an abortion in the state constitution would offer a higher level of protection.
It would also send a message about where the battleground state stands on the issue amid a national conversation and push for restrictions, say advocates.
The Nevadans for Reproductive Freedom PAC filed with the Nevada Secretary of State an initiative petition to amend the state constitution and establish “a fundamental right to reproductive freedom.” The political action committee is a collaboration between Planned Parenthood Votes Nevada, Reproductive Freedom for All Nevada (formerly known as NARAL Pro-Choice Nevada), and the ACLU of Nevada.
“People across the country and across Nevada are rightfully angry that a radical Supreme Court has rolled back reproductive freedoms at the federal level,” said Lindsey Harmon, president of Nevadans For Reproductive Freedom, in a statement. “That’s why abortion rights are poised to take center stage in Nevada this year.”
The PAC, in their official description of effect, said the reproductive freedom amendment would ensure people have the right “to make and carry out decisions about matters relating to their pregnancies, including prenatal care, childbirth, postpartum care, birth control, vasectomies and tubal ligations, abortion and abortion care, and care for miscarriages and infertility.”
The initiative petition was filed in September and challenged by a Nevadan named Donna Washington and a newly formed PAC called the Coalition for Parents and Children. They argued the proposal violates a Nevada requirement that petitions address only a single subject. They also argued the petition contains a misleading or inaccurate description of effect and involves an unfunded mandate. On Nov. 21, District Court Judge James Todd Russell ruled in favor of the anti-abortion rights advocates.
KOLO quoted the judge as saying it was “the clearest case” of a single-subject rule violation he’d seen: “I’ve seen a lot of them over the years and in respect to this particular matter, there are too many subjects. Not all of which are functionally related to each other.”
Nevadans for Reproductive Freedom has appealed the ruling to the Nevada Supreme Court.
In early December, Nevadans for Reproductive Freedom filed a second initiative petition, this one more narrowly focused. It would amend the state constitution only to establish a fundamental right to an abortion. This petition was similarly challenged by anti-abortion advocate rights advocates. A hearing in district court is scheduled for Tuesday.
For either effort to appear on this year’s general election ballot, the PAC must survive legal challenges, then collect and submit around 102,000 valid signatures by June 26.
Nevadans for Reproductive Freedom is well funded, according to a campaign finance report filed this month. The PAC raised $1.8 million last year. One million came from Think Big America, a nonprofit established last year by Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker to support and broaden abortion rights across the country.
Constitutional amendments proposed through an initiative petition must be passed by voters twice, meaning if voters approve one of the measures later this year, they will need to approve it again in 2026 before it can go into effect.
If Nevadans for Reproductive Rights does not qualify either petition for the ballot this year, or if they qualify the narrower version, voters in the Silver State are likely to weigh in on the issue of reproductive rights again in 2026. That’s because Democrats within the Nevada State Legislature have been pursuing a proposed constitutional amendment of their own.
Last year, during the 2023 Legislative Session, Democrats passed Senate Joint Resolution 7, which changes the Nevada Constitution to include a right to reproductive freedom. SJR7’s language is similar to that of the broader reproductive rights initiative struck down by the district court.
SJR7 will automatically return to the 2025 Legislative Session. If lawmakers pass the resolution a second time, it will appear before voters on the 2026 ballot for final passage. That prospect seems likely given the margins by which Democrats control the Nevada State Legislature. Resolutions are not subject to gubernatorial vetoes.
Organizers from Nevadans for Reproductive Rights have previously said they may advise lawmakers to “pull back” on SJR7 if their broader reproductive rights initiative is successful this year.
“There is a real urgency to codify reproductive freedom in our state constitution because of the massive impacts that abortion bans are having across the country,” said Alexa Solis, a spokesperson for the coalition via email Monday. “Our goal is to make those protections as clear and inclusive as possible and to do so as fast as we possibly can.”
Solis added, “Any decisions or recommendations about the future of SJR7 will be made in consultation with legislative leadership at an appropriate time in the future.”
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