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Nevada Republican governor makes rare move with abortion protections

Nevada's Joe Lombardo is one of the only Republican governors to sign a law enshrining protections for abortion.
Nevada Gov. Joe Lombardo
Posted at 6:47 AM, May 31, 2023

Nevada's Joe Lombardo on Tuesday became one of the first Republican governors to enshrine protections for out-of-state abortion patients and in-state providers, adding the western swing state to the list of those passing new laws to solidify their status as safe havens for abortion patients.

The legislation codifies an existing executive order from former Gov. Steve Sisolak last year — who lost reelection to Lombardo — that bars state agencies from assisting in out-of-state investigations that could lead to the prosecution of abortion patients who travel to Nevada. It also ensures medical boards and commissions that oversee medical licenses do not discipline or disqualify doctors who provide abortions.

Lombardo, who describes himself as "pro-life" and was endorsed by the National Right to Life Committee, said on the campaign trail that he would respect the will of voters who codified abortion rights up to 24 weeks in a 1990 referendum vote. He was the only Republican to defeat a state Democratic incumbent in the last election.

"I want to thank (Lombardo) for following through on his commitment to ensuring that Nevada won't participate in prosecutions of women who come here to exercise their reproductive rights," said Democratic Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro, who sponsored the legislation, in a statement Tuesday.

Lombardo is one of the only Republican governors — following Vermont Gov. Phil Scott and former Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker — to sign a law enshrining protections for abortion.

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The provisions were a major flashpoint in one of the closest governor's races of the 2022 midterms and became the latest reflection point for how Republican lawmakers and candidates navigate abortion policy debates in blue to purple states. Lombardo originally said he would repeal the executive order, but said months later he would uphold it, a reversal that Sisolak's campaign repeatedly emphasized. In February, he signaled that he would sign the bill, which does not add any additional protections to Sisolak's executive order.

"Governor Lombardo made a campaign commitment to ensure that Nevada would not participate in prosecuting those seeking legal medical care in the state," spokesperson Elizabeth Ray said in a statement. "Today, Governor Lombardo kept that commitment."

Cannizzaro told The Associated Press last month that she was not aware of particular cases of outside states prosecuting women who have come to Nevada for abortions, but said that could happen with more restrictive laws coming from other states. She referenced restrictions approved in neighboring Idaho and Utah.

Democratic-controlled states from California to Colorado to Rhode Island have approved similar legislation to the one in Nevada.

Nevada's state Senate advanced the legislation last month, with two Republican women joining Democrats in support of the bill. Following the vote, the Nevada Republican Party said it was "horrified" that the two voted for the measure, exposing an intra-Republican rift about how to handle abortion legislation in a post-Roe world. In other cases, that involves to what extent abortion access should be restricted. The Nevada GOP did not immediately respond to a request for comment about Tuesday's signing.

Earlier this month, Nevada's Democratic-controlled Legislature advanced a resolution that would enshrine the existing abortion rights in the state constitution, which would make it much harder to repeal. After passing the 2023 session, it must also pass in 2025 before appearing in front of voters on the 2026 ballot. That process does not include the governor's approval.