Western states work to shore up abortion access

‘State laws might become the law of the land.’

 

A volunteer with NARAL Pro-Choice Nevada huddles with legislators on the floor of the state capitol in early May.
Liliana Trejo Vanegas/NARAL Nevada

On May 21, roughly 70 supporters braved snow, rain and hail before they walked into the state capitol in Carson City, Nevada, to watch the nation’s first majority-women state legislature pass Senate Bill 179. Better known as the Trust Nevada Women Act, it stood in stark contrast to the abortion restrictions being proposed across the country.

The bill, which ultimately passed 27-13, eliminated criminal penalties against women who sought an abortion. In early May, Georgia’s governor signed a law banning abortions after the detection of a fetal heartbeat. Shortly after, Alabama passed one of the nation’s strictest abortion laws, criminalizing abortion even in the case of rape and incest. And Missouri is set to become the first state without an abortion clinic.

According to Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto her state of Nevada stands out as abortion policies in red states move further right. “We will continue to be a beacon of hope and safety for women in this country,” Cortez Masto said in a written statement to High Country News.

While no one was charged for terminating a pregnancy under the old statute, the new bill is a preemptive measure against the potential overturning of Roe v. Wade, according to Caroline Mello Roberson, state director of NARAL Pro-Choice Nevada. “State laws might become the law of the land,” she said.

Nevada Right to Life opposed the bill, saying it would put women’s lives at risk by softening penalties against non-doctors who perform abortions. But the biggest concern for Melissa Clement, executive director of Nevada Right to Life, is the removal of a statute requiring a doctor ask the age of a patient.

“Who does that help? It doesn’t help women, and it doesn’t help children,” Clement said. By removing the mandatory age reporting, the new bill would benefit abusers and predators, she said.

This is the most liberal abortion bill Clement has seen in Nevada. “It’s a knee-jerk reaction to the change in the Supreme Court,” she said, referencing the strong conservative majority with the appointment of Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

Nevada State Sen. Yvanna Cancela, D, sponsor of the Trust Nevada Women Act, speaks with NARAL Pro-Choice Nevada volunteers in May.
Liliana Trejo Vanegas/NARAL Nevada

Roberson said she’s also seen similar “clean-up bills,” popping up throughout the country in the past year, especially in the West. The bills aim to wipe out any preexisting state law which would take effect if the Supreme Court’s 1973 decision was ever overturned. Although the results have not always been successful.

New Mexico voted in March to uphold a 1969 law which criminalized a medical provider from terminating a pregnancy except in the case of rape, incest or threats to the woman’s physical health.

For states that lack a legislative majority in support of less restrictions, activists are left to search for alternative measures. In Arizona, a Republican governor and pro-life majority in the state legislature have created a state with one of the most restrictive limits to abortions, according to Tayler Tucker, media relations manager at Planned Parenthood Arizona.

“When you have a governor who’s willing to sign any law that’s anti-abortion and a Republican majority that’s willing to fall in line, there’s very little we can do to pass legislation like a state like New York,” said Tucker.

In April, Planned Parenthood Arizona filed a lawsuit against the state of Arizona alleging its laws unnecessarily restricted access to abortions and left rural areas without abortion services.

“Access to abortion is a fundamental right, yet Arizona’s restrictive laws make it increasingly inaccessible for millions of women - particularly for low-income, women of color,” said Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., in a written statement.

States with a Republican majority are not the only ones seeing a rise in bills designed to curtail abortion access. Colorado’s Democratic-controlled state legislature rejected a bill in January that would have been more restrictive than Alabama’s. In part, the proposal would have defined the start of human life at fertilization.

But in Arizona, activists are wary of laws and policies that chip away at a woman’s access to reproductive health services.

“It’s very easy to not pay attention to these little, small movements that dwindle access and cut funding,” Tucker said. “It’s a slow, mundane process that has gotten us to this point.”

Liz Weber is an editorial intern working in Washington, D.C., for High Country News and a student at American University. Email High Country News at [email protected] or submit a letter to the editor.

High Country News Classifieds
  • STAFF ATTORNEY
    The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA), Utah's largest conservation organization, has an immediate opening in its Salt Lake City office for a staff attorney. SUWA's...
  • DEVELOPMENT & COMMUNICATION SPECIALIST
    Idaho Walk Bike Alliance seeks a lover of bicycling, walking, and all modes of active transportation who willingly puts the car in the garage and...
  • COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR
    Friends of Inyo - the Communications Director is a full-time permanent position that reports to the Executive Director and utilizes communication strategies and production skills...
  • INDIGENOUS AFFAIRS EDITOR
    High Country News seeks an editor to oversee the work of our award-winning Indigenous Affairs Desk. This individual will lead a team of passionate journalists...
  • HIKING TO THE EDGE:
    Confronting Cancer in Rocky Mountain National Park. Poetry and photos on survival thinking. E-book and paperback available at Amazon.com.
  • OPERATIONS MANAGER
    Founded in 1936, the National Wildlife Federation has grown into America's largest and most trusted grassroots conservation organization with 53 state/territorial affiliates and more than...
  • IPLC RIGHTS AND EQUITY PROGRAM ASSOCIATE
    A LITTLE ABOUT US Founded in 1951, the Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR FUTURE WEST
    Future West seeks an executive director to lead this dynamic organization into the future. Based in Bozeman, MT this well-respected nonprofit provides communities in the...
  • PART-TIME EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Mitchell Museum of the American Indian Location: Evanston, IL Salary Range: $45,000 @ 24 hours per week. send resume: [email protected] www.mitchellmuseum.org
  • COMMUNICATIONS LEAD
    Southeast Alaska Conservation Council is hiring! Who We Are: The Southeast Alaska Conservation Council (SEACC) is a small grassroots nonprofit based out of Juneau, Alaska,...
  • SENIOR POLICY ADVISOR
    Since 1989, The Nature Conservancy in Alaska has been doing work you can believe in protecting the lands and waters that all life depends on....
  • OUTDOOR PROGRAM - ASSISTANT DIRECTOR
    St. Lawrence University seeks to fill the position of Assistant Director in the Outdoor Program. To view the complete position description, including minimum qualifications required,...
  • PUBLIC LANDS DIRECTOR
    Job Announcement Conserve Southwest Utah is seeking a dedicated advocate for conservation and public lands Public Lands Director a "make a difference" position Conserve Southwest...
  • FOR SALE
    Yellowstone Llamas Successful Yellowstone NP concession Flexible packages
  • DIRECTOR OF DEVELOPMENT & MARKETING
    Grand Staircase Escalante Partners is seeking a full-time Director of Development & Marketing. This is a senior position responsible for the development of all marketing...
  • LEGAL DIRECTOR
    The Legal Director will work closely with the Executive Director in cultivating a renewed vision at NMELC that integrates diversity, equity, and justice. Black, Indigenous,...
  • WE'RE LOOKING FOR LEADERS!
    As we celebrate 50 years of great Western journalism, High Country News is looking for a few new board members to help set a course...
  • WIND RIVER WRITERS AND PHOTOGRAPHERS RETREAT BY THE NATIONAL BIGHORN SHEEP CENTER
    Enhance your writing or photography skills with world-class instructors in the beautiful Wind River Mountains. All skill levels welcome. Continuing education credits available.
  • EARTH CRUISER FX FOR SALE
    Overland Vehicle for travel on or off road. Fully self contained. Less than 41,000 miles. Recently fully serviced Located in Redmond, OR $215'000.
  • ENVIRONMENTAL GEOPHYSICS
    identifies suspect buried trash, tanks, drums &/or utilities and conducts custom-designed subsurface investigations that support post-damage litigation.