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VICTOR JOECKS: How Nevada Republicans can win on abortion

If Roe v. Wade is overturned, Nevada Republicans will have a political opportunity. Here’s how they can take advantage of it.

Changing Nevada’s abortion law requires voter approval. Currently, abortion is legal through 24 weeks with no limitations. Abortions after 24 weeks are allowed to preserve a woman’s health. Because “health” can include mental health, that’s a limitation in name only. Sadly, that means if the Supreme Court does reverse Roe, the killing of preborn babies won’t stop in Nevada.

Many Republican politicians were quick to point this out. Republican Senate front-runner Adam Laxalt praised the potential decision as a “historic victory for the sanctity of life.” But he also said, abortion is “settled law” in Nevada.

Republican gubernatorial front-runner Joe Lombardo agreed. “Abortion policy is already addressed in Nevada law,” he said, according to the Elko Daily Free Press. “The governor and Legislature cannot make changes to it.” Both GOP attorney general candidates erroneously claimed abortion was in Nevada’s constitution.

Aside from Laxalt’s applause, you can almost feel the collective relief. They get to say they’re pro-life, and they don’t have to fight to limit abortion. Not a great reaction to what would be the greatest pro-life victory in 50 years.

It’s also a political mistake.

It allows Democrats, including Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto and Gov. Steve Sisolak, to run away from their radical positions on abortion.

On Wednesday, Cortez Masto voted for the so-called Women’s Health Protection Act, which a majority rejected. It would have allowed abortion through all nine months of pregnancy, using the mental health loophole. For his part, Sisolak said, “I will do everything in my power to protect a women’s right to choose.”

Unlimited abortion is an unpopular position. Consider a recent Pew survey. Most people, 61-37 percent, support legal abortion. But among that 61 percent, a majority believes in imposing restrictions as the mother gets later into pregnancy.

Read that again. A majority of abortion supporters oppose what Cortez Masto just voted in favor of.

The survey also found overwhelming opposition, 22 percent in favor with 42 percent opposed, to abortion at 24 weeks. Remember, Nevada’s law is even more permissive than that. It’s also true that there is a similar level of opposition, 20 percent in favor with 44 percent against, to an abortion ban at six weeks.

The public wants something in the middle. The Pew survey found just 34 percent of people thought abortion should be legal at 14 weeks. Of the remainder, 27 percent were opposed and 35 percent said it depends. Other surveys show where those undecideds stand. A 2022 Marist poll found 71 percent didn’t support abortion in the second trimester or later. A 2019 NPR poll found 61 percent supported limiting abortions to the first trimester.

This data and the need for voter approval gives Republican candidates, especially for governor, an obvious path forward. Propose sending voters a 13-week abortion ban with exceptions for physical health, rape and incest. The Legislature could pass and the governor could sign a 13-week ban that goes into effect only if voters support it.

When asked, Laxalt and Lombardo said they would support this. Gubernatorial candidates Dean Heller and John Lee said they would as well.

“This position is much more in line with the vast majority of Nevadans, in contrast to Senator Masto’s vote to make aborting babies legal all the way up to live birth,” Laxalt said. He added, “Her vote is the most barbaric vote any elected representative of Nevada has ever cast.”

This is a winning contrast politically. Lombardo — or whoever wins the Republican gubernatorial nomination — and other Republican candidates shouldn’t shy away from it.

Contact vjoecks@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4698. Follow @victorjoecks on Twitter.

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