Legislature mulls enshrining abortion rights in constitution

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Nevada Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro introduced a constitutional amendment March 16 that — over more than three years — could enshrine existing abortion rights in the state constitution, which would offer the highest level of state protection.

Abortion rights up to 24 weeks are already codified into state law through a 1990 ballot measure, and it could be changed with another referendum vote.

The standards are higher for amending the constitution — either approval from two legislative sessions and an election, or two consecutive elections with a simple majority of votes. A governor is unable to veto a constitutional amendment.

Cannizzaro led a group of 40 Democratic lawmakers in co-sponsoring the measure.

“With this amendment, Nevadans will have the ability to establish firm constitutional limits on government overreach into private medical decisions, leaving them between patients and doctors where they belong,” Cannizzaro said in a statement.

The move comes in the first post-Roe vs. Wade legislative sessions where statehouses across the country are reconfiguring abortion rights. The quick-changing landscape, particularly in Republican strongholds, has transformed the legal arena and prompted a flurry of lawsuits in at least 21 states.

As recently as March 15, Utah Gov. Spencer Cox signed a law that could ban abortion clinics from operating in the coming months while a Texas judge heard debate over whether to ban a leading abortion pill. On Thursday, a six-week abortion ban moved forward in the Florida House of Representatives as the state’s 15-week abortion ban is still being challenged.

In Nevada, abortions are allowed after 24 weeks if the pregnancy could be fatal for the mother.

For abortion rights to be enshrined in the Nevada Constitution, the amendment would have to pass both the 2023 and 2025 biennial legislative sessions before it would go in front of voters on the 2026 ballot. The Nevada Senate has 13 Democrats and eight Republicans, while the Assembly has 28 Democrats and 14 Republicans, which qualifies as a Democratic supermajority.

The issue of abortion rights played a large role in the razor-thin campaigns for governor and U.S. Senate in Nevada. Republican Gov. Joe Lombardo ousted the incumbent, Democrat Steve Sisolak. U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto narrowly beat Republican Adam Laxalt.

Stern is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms.


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