As he prepares to make a run for the U.S. Senate next year, Republican Adam Laxalt’s anti-abortion views have pro-choice organizations up in arms.
Laxalt was Nevada’s Attorney General from 2015 to 2019. He was defeated in his 2018 gubernatorial bid by Steve Sisolak. Now, he’s running to unseat Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto in the Nov. 8, 2022 election.
The concern voiced by pro-choice groups is that Laxalt’s past actions have indicated that he will do what he can to undermine reproductive rights—and giving him a seat in the Senate could allow him the opportunity to do that through supporting the confirmation of a conservative justice to the Supreme Court, should a vacancy arise.
Pro-choice groups across the country have been speaking out in support of reproductive rights since the Supreme Court decided not to block Texas’s new, restrictive abortion law. The new law, passed by a Republican majority state legislature and signed by a GOP governor, effectively bans the procedure—through threat of civil litigation—at an early enough stage that many women might not even know they’re pregnant.
In Nevada, pro-choice groups are paying attention, too, though even an overturning of 1972’s Roe v. Wade decision by the Supreme Court would have no effect in Nevada, at least not initially.
In 1990, Nevadans voted on a ballot referendum to enshrine abortion protections into state law. Question 7 was placed on the ballot following the efforts of a politically diverse group of Nevadans and passed in a tremendous landslide—201,004 to 117,707.
Nevada election laws make it such that once a law has received the public’s approval through the referendum process, that section of law cannot be changed or repealed without another vote of the public. Nevada’s Legislature can’t outlaw abortion in Nevada, regardless of what the Supreme Court might do.
Still, Laxalt’s anti-abortion stance is of concern to some who do not want to allow him the opportunity to undermine reproductive health care rights, in Nevada or at the federal level. His track record on the issue demonstrates he would take any opportunity to do so.
As Nevada Attorney General, Laxalt filed friend-of-the-court briefs asking the Supreme Court to overturn a California law requiring crisis pregnancy centers to inform women of their options and another to an appeals court asking it to uphold a Texas law outlawing second trimester abortions. He did this knowing how Nevadans had voted on Question 7.
‘We’re not safe here’
On Thursday morning, representatives of several pro-choice organizations held an event at City Plaza. The event was organized with help from Nevada Democratic Victory—the group that sprang up following a progressive takeover of top leadership positions during elections for the state Democratic Party and an announcement in June by the Washoe County Democratic Party that it would be seizing control over next year’s coordinated midterm campaign operations.
Representatives from NARAL Pro-Choice America, the Wild West Access Fund of Nevada and a leader in the push for the passage of Question 7 in 1990 gathered to speak about concerns surrounding the possible infringement of reproductive rights—and to speak out against Laxalt and in favor of Cortez Masto.
Attorney Laura Fitzsimmons acted as legal counsel during the lead up to the 1990 Question 7 referendum. In the intervening three decades, she’s continued to advocate for reproductive rights—supporting and sitting on the board of Planned Parenthood and providing funding for women seeking abortions. She has also been working with other pro-choice advocates to change regulations so medical professionals like nurse practitioners can provide the service for patients, including in rural areas of the state where abortion clinics don’t exist.
Fitzsimmons said the passage of Question 7 more than 30 years ago has given Nevadans a false sense of security.
“We feel safe here—but we’re not safe here. There’s two ways that we can undo the work that was done more than 30 years ago,” she said. “One thing that could happen is there could be a referendum and Nevadans could vote to undermine Roe v. Wade. That’s not going to happen because Nevada is a pro-choice state. … So, the threat we’re facing is really from the United States Supreme Court, from conservative justices that are basically appointed by our United States Senate. It’s a real threat.”
Fitzsimmons also referenced the court briefings sent by Laxalt when he was attorney general.
“During a time when we had a pro-choice governor, Governor Sandoval, on his own, Adam Laxalt signed our state on to amicus briefs around the country that were challenging reproductive freedom and abortion rights. With a record like this, in the United States Senate he will undermine our protections that we’ve all fought hard for and that Nevadans support,” she said.
Caroline Mello Roberson, Southwest regional director for NARAL Pro-Choice America, said the threat of Roe v. Wade being overturned is real. She said all people who believe in reproductive choice need to keep that in mind as the nation awaits a Supreme Court decision in the spring on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. That case challenges an effort by Mississippi to seek reversal of Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which would return abortion law to the control of state governments.
“It is clear what’s at stake here in 2022,” Roberson said. “We must reject Laxalt’s anti-choice, sexist agenda. Nevadans need a senator who values reproductive freedom, like Sen. Cortez Masto,” she said. “Sen.Cortez Masto has been a leader in the Senate advocating for reproductive freedom, and we must re-elect her.”
Also present at City Plaza was the founder of a new abortion fund organization in Nevada. Carla Ramazan, executive director at Wild West Access Fund for Nevada, started that group in June.
The fund has since financially assisted more than 30 women in obtaining abortion services.
“My family emigrated from Romania,” Ramazan said. “As some of you may know, Romania is often a case study for how not to do abortion laws. My aunt passed away from an unsafe abortion. And, often, the reason I fight so hard for this is to honor her and so many others.
“I spent my college years in Texas … so the news of the near total abortion ban in Texas is devastating to me—and we can’t let it happen in Nevada,” she added.
Ramazan said reelecting Cortez Masto to the Senate will be critical in protecting reproductive rights for women not just in Nevada but across the country.
“We cannot turn back the clock by enabling backward-thinking elected officials to get a total pass on being a legitimate threat to our reproductive freedoms. Americans and Nevadans are now seeing the dark repercussions of the past couple of years of court packing,” she said. “We cannot allow for a Senate that pushes for more anti-choice justices who are solely aiming to roll back our reproductive freedoms.”
Just hours after the event at City Plaza U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland said the Justice Department had sued the state of Texas over its new abortion law. The new law interferes with a woman’s ability to exercise her constitutional rights, Garland said.
“The act is clearly unconstitutional under long standing Supreme Court precedent” he said.
Jeri Chadwell came to Reno from rural Nevada in 2004 to study anthropology at the University of Nevada, Reno. In 2012, she returned to the university for a master’s degree in journalism. She is the former associate and news editor of the Reno News & Review and is a recipient of first-place Nevada Press Association awards for investigative and business reporting. Jeri is passionate about Nevada’s history, politics and communities.