A Beacon of Hope: Nevada's Women Lawmakers Pass Abortion Rights Bill

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Nevada's women lawmakers

On a day when most of the country was protesting a move back to the dark ages for women's reproductive rights, Nevada became "the only state that had something to celebrate" by passing Senate Bill 179, also known as the , which decriminalizes abortion and removes several decades-old restrictions on it. The bill passed 27 to 13 in what since the mid-terms has been the country's first majority-female legislature - in contrast, say, to Alabama, where men just banned abortion and women not coincidentally make up just 15% of lawmakers. In Nevada, observers say, the state's old, white, sexist, brothel-owning, sexual-harassing guard are dying off, and increasingly yielding power to more young, racially diverse, Democratic women who once believed "politicians aren't us" and then learned otherwise, in part thanks to newly galvanized political action groups recruiting and training women. The results are startling: Today, more than 17 pending bills deal with sexual assault and misconduct, bills to ban child marriage and study maternal mortality are on the docket, and women's voices have joined policy debates on gun safety and prison reform. A few years ago, says Assembly Majority Leader Teresa Benitez-Thompson, “None of these bills would have seen the light of day.”

Among that new wave of women is Democratic State Sen. Yvanna Cancela, the 32-year-old former political director of the Culinary Workers Union who sponsored the new abortion bill. It amends a 1973 statute, upheld by almost two-thirds of voters in a 1990 referendum, that recognizes the right of women to have a physician-provided abortion within the first 24 weeks of pregnancy, effectively sealing Roe v. Wade's protections into state law. The new bill would remove criminal penalties for women who terminate a pregnancy without talking to a physician; it would also repeal existing prohibitions on self-induced abortions or miscarriages, and strike rules requiring doctors to document a woman's age and marital status and describe “the physical and emotional implications” of abortion. The bill's 13 no-votes came from one Democratic and all 12 Republican Assembly members; Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak is expected to sign it this week. The rare victory for women comes in a state where almost 85% of voters say they are pro-choice, and in a legislature that expressed the clear consensus that "these are matters that should be decided by women themselves." Fittingly, only women spoke from the Assembly floor. Welcome to the future.

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