Democratic Nevada Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto is drawing on fears about abortion restrictions to repel a challenge from Republican Adam Laxalt in a tossup race that could decide party control of the Senate, which is now split 50-50.
“Women’s health care is under assault, and Adam Laxalt is leading the charge,” the narrator said in a 15-second video ad Cortez Masto shared on Facebook and Instagram. On screen, a Politico headline appears about the U.S. Supreme Court draft decision that, if finalized, would overturn abortion rights.
“Laxalt supports eliminating Nevada’s protections for legal abortions,” the narrator continues. “He even wants to restrict access to birth control.” Text on the screen went further: “Laxalt worked to limit access to birth control,” it said.
We rated the claim about Laxalt and restrictions to birth control as Mostly True. As Nevada’s attorney general, Laxalt supported efforts that would have restricted access to birth control. But he hasn’t spoken publicly about this issue during his Senate campaign.
On the abortion claim, we didn’t find that Laxalt has said he would entirely eliminate abortion protections. But he supports holding a referendum asking Nevada voters to restrict abortion after 13 weeks of pregnancy. That would be a tighter restriction than under current Nevada law.
Laxalt’s campaign did not respond to our call and emails.
His campaign website describes Laxalt as “pro-life” and says he opposes taxpayer funding for abortions.” It also says he opposes codifying “barbaric partial-birth abortion practices as federal law.”
Roe and abortion rights in Nevada
Abortion rights became a pivotal election issue after the May 2 leak of a draft Supreme Court opinion that would overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 Supreme Court case. If the draft is finalized, it would effectively eliminate the national right to an abortion and leave it up to each state to decide their own policies.
Nevada is one of 16 states, plus the District of Columbia, that has passed laws protecting access to abortions. Nevada law allows abortion through 24 weeks of pregnancy and after 24 weeks, if it is to preserve the woman’s life or health.
Nevada’s law was passed by the state legislature and later adopted by voters in a 1990 referendum, which passed with 63% of the vote. In Nevada, when a statute is affirmed by voters in a referendum, it can only be changed by another referendum. So the state’s abortion protections would stay in place even if Roe were overturned.
Nevada’s law would be superseded, however, if there were a national law banning abortion.
Laxalt on abortion referendum
After Politico published the Supreme Court draft, Laxalt said in a statement that if the draft reflects the court’s ultimate ruling, it would be an “historic victory for the sanctity of life.” But, alluding to the 1990 referendum, he said that even if Roe were overturned, Nevadans had “already voted to make abortion rights legal in our state,” and that the matter is “settled law.”
Laxalt has not campaigned on restricting abortion access but, he has indicated support for going to Nevada voters with a new referendum that would restrict abortion after 13 weeks.
Cortez Masto’s campaign cited as evidence for its claim a May 14 opinion article by a Las Vegas Review-Journal columnist giving advice to Nevada Republicans.
“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,” Victor Joecks wrote.
When asked, Laxalt said he “would support this,” the column said.
“This position is much more in line with the vast majority of Nevadans,” the column quotes Laxalt as saying.
In 2018, while running for governor, Laxalt was asked by a Reno TV reporter if he would pursue a referendum to change the 1990 referendum. “We’re going to look into it,” he replied.
This is not the only time Cortez Masto, a first-term senator and the first Latina to serve in the Senate, has attacked Laxalt on abortion rights. Another ad claimed, without citing evidence, that Laxalt would vote for a nationwide abortion ban.
A Las Vegas TV station asked Laxalt on May 13 whether he would support an effort to ban abortion nationally if Roe were overturned.
“Roe was wrongly decided … I think this needs to go to the states and, as I said, Nevada is obviously decided in their referendum,” he said.
As attorney general, Laxalt filed court briefs supporting efforts to restrict abortion access in other states, and one in support of crisis pregnancy centers, which counsel women against getting abortions. Those cases would not have affected abortion access in Nevada.
Cortez Masto said Laxalt “supports eliminating Nevada’s protections for legal abortions.”
Laxalt has said that the matter of abortion rights in Nevada is settled law. Nevada law allows abortion through 24 weeks of pregnancy and after 24 weeks, if it is to preserve the woman’s life or health.
However, Laxalt has also said that if the Supreme Court overturned Roe, it would be a “historic victory for the sanctity of life.” Additionally, he has expressed support for a referendum that would ask Nevada voters about restricting access to abortions in the state.
Cortez Masto’s claim about Laxalt is partially accurate. We rate it Half True.
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