Democratic state Sen. Yvanna Cancela is paring down a bill that would decriminalize abortion and change informed consent requirements related to the procedure ahead of a hearing next week.
During a hearing on the bill scheduled for Monday, Cancela plans to introduce an amendment that would leave in statute some provisions she had originally sought to repeal, including a parental notification law that was ruled unconstitutional by a federal court but remains on the books, criminal penalties for concealing births and two informed consent provisions that she said allow doctors to provide medically relevant information. She framed the changes as an effort to prioritize what’s most important to accomplish this session.
The bill, SB179, had initially proposed to remove the state’s parental notification law, which was found unconstitutional in a 1991 decision by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals but remains in statute. The local chapter of the national abortion rights group NARAL Pro-Choice America, which is pushing for the bill, was trying to get it off of the state’s books entirely.
But Cancela said that provision “convoluted the intent of the bill” and detracted from the other two issues she’s trying to tackle.
“It is an issue that is separate from this bill,” Cancela said, “and big picture, with the changes on the Supreme Court and the changes in federal government put women's rights in the spotlight and particularly women's reproductive rights, the most important thing to me is to ensure that our informed consent laws are in line with medical standard practices and that in statute there aren't criminal penalties for a procedure that's legal.”
The amendment will also leave in place a statute that makes concealing the birth of a dead child by the disposition of its body, whether the baby died before or after birth, a gross misdemeanor. Cancela said the decision to remove that provision originally stemmed from a well-publicized case in Indiana where a woman tried to self-induce an abortion but that striking that statute doesn’t accomplish her overall goal with the bill.
“I think the language, while it could be stretched to be related to abortion, is not germane to the original intent of the bill which was dealing with criminal penalties related to abortion,” Cancela said.
The legislation will still repeal criminal penalties for abortions performed outside the scope of Nevada’s abortion statute, including self-induced abortions. Anyone who performs such an abortion is guilty of a category B felony punishable by a minimum one-year and maximum 10-year prison sentence and a fine of up to $10,000 under state law.
A NARAL-commissioned poll released in February found that more than eight in 10 Nevadans believe abortion should be legal, while another two-thirds say they would support legislation to remove criminal penalties on women who receive an abortion.
The bill also removes other criminal penalties for anyone who sells drugs to produce miscarriage.
The amendment would additionally leave in law two portions of the state’s informed consent statute that allow doctors to inform women that they are pregnant and how far along in their pregnancy they are. Cancela said that the change came from talking to activists and one doctor and would allow physicians to continue providing the same medical information to patients that they do today.
“The intent is to ensure that when discussing a medical procedure, which is what an abortion is, that women are receiving medically relevant information,” Cancela said. “It is part of the standard of care today that women are told obviously that they're pregnant and how far along they are today.”
Under the amended text, the bill will still propose repealing a requirement that doctors describe “the physical and emotional implications” of having an abortion in favor of having them just explain the procedure, discomforts and risks. The legislation also lays out specifics for how informed consent should be obtained and when an interpreter should be provided.
NARAL, which worked with Cancela on the legislation, nicknamed the "Trust Nevada Women Act," declined to comment specifically on the proposed amendment. But the organization’s state director, Caroline Mello Roberson, said in a statement that the organization is looking forward to participating in the Monday hearing and talking with lawmakers about “all of the original components we put forth in the bill.”
"Nevada has served as a beacon of hope for reproductive freedom in this country and the vigorous conversation right now around protecting the rights of Nevadans is exciting,” Mello Roberson said. “The Trust Nevada Women Act is an important bill which will remove outdated barriers and clean up antiquated laws including removing criminal penalties for abortion and ensuring women are not jailed for accessing healthcare.”
Nevada Right to Life President Melissa Clement said that she’s glad to see the parental notification statute removed from the legislation, a portion of the existing informed consent process kept in and the statute criminalizing concealing the birth of a child left in place, calling it “great progress.” She also added that she continues to support provisions of the bill that remove criminal penalties on women.
“We've never been in favor of throwing women in jail for a difficult decision like this,” Clement said.
But she said that she continues to have concerns over removing a discussion about the emotional implications of having an abortion from the informed consent process. She also raised concerns over the unintended consequences of two decriminalization statutes, including one that she said could allow a boyfriend to slip his girlfriend an abortion drug without her knowledge.
The bill will be heard in the Senate Health and Human Services Committee at 2:30 p.m. on Monday.