PHOTO/DENNIS MYERS At the Nevada Legislature, Planned Parenthood lobbyist Elisa Erquiaga took a call in the Nevada Legislature’s front lobby while dealing with an anti-abortion bill.

“I don’t think that’s ever happened before,” said one lobbyist.

Her bewilderment was understandable. When Assembly Bill 405, a bill providing for parental notification of abortion, entered the Assembly Committee on Health and Human Services, the bill listed Speaker John Hambrick as sponsor. When the bill emerged from the committee, after also making a stop at the Judiciary Committee chaired by Washoe Assemblymember Ira Hansen, it listed Hansen as the sponsor.

In a legislature in which Hansen is rumored to control enough proxies in the Republican caucus to serve as a shadow speaker, it was the most blatant demonstration yet of that power, and it made Hambrick—the actual speaker—look like a figurehead.

The proponents and opponents were quickly heard.

Battle Born Progress director Annette Magnus said in a prepared statement, “What is going on in the Assembly within the GOP caucus is unbelievable, and it is no more evident than in A.B. 405. Assemblyman Ira Hansen is once again hijacking the narrative, and reviving his extreme agenda by any means necessary. Speaker Hambrick, the original bill sponsor, was right in saying that this bill ’would create significant costs to our judiciary and put a burden on Nevada doctors.’ Majority Leader Paul Anderson estimates that significant cost to be about $2 million, but the damage doesn’t end there. Studies have shown that teens will not stop having sex, but will hesitate to share medical information with their providers, putting themselves at risk.”

“We have waited 22 years for this!!!” said Independent American Party leader Janine Hansen of Elko County in her own statement. “The last time we had a real opportunity was in 1993 with SB59 and Senator [Ray] Rawson. A.B. 405 allows for a parent to be notified before their underage daughter gets an abortion. In all other surgical procedures parents must give their consent for the underage child to have surgery. Parental notification will help to bring parents and their daughters together to address this life changing situation.”

The Nevada Women’s Lobby issued a call for women to converge this week on Carson City “to help us demonstrate that the FIFTIES are long gone! The ’Mad Men’ and a few women in Carson City want to turn back the clock so they need to see that the WOMEN in Nevada will NOT go backwards. Get on your Fifties outfits with white gloves, pumps and pearls or aprons and join us in Carson City as Nevada Women’s Lobby, Planned Parenthood, PLAN [Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada], Progress Now and Advocates for Justice send a visual message to the legislators as they contemplate their votes (or failure to vote) on the … bills that impact Women and Middle Class families in Nevada!”

Republicans are playing with political fire in tinkering with abortion law. The state is noted for its support for abortion. Nevadans voted on the issue in a 1990 referendum and approved the state’s Roe-style abortion law in a landslide, 71.3 to 27.2 percent.

Supporters of the new measure have argued that parental notification is another matter. For example, in a recent newsletter, Washoe Assemblymember Pat Hickey quoted a Reno Gazette-Journal article that “Nevada parents must give written permission to/for their minor children before they visit ’tanning clinics, tattoo parlors and ear-piercing specialists.’”

But his fellow Republicans in earlier years wrote laws that treated abortion differently, laws that slowed or burdened the abortion process but did not apply to other procedures. For instance, state law requires in the case of abortions, “No physician may perform an abortion in this state unless, before the physician performs it, he or she certifies in writing that the woman gave her informed written consent, freely and without coercion. The physician shall further certify in writing the pregnant woman’s marital status and age based upon proof of age offered by her.” There is no such requirement for appendectomies—or ear piercings.

Opponents of the measure are concerned that young women will be physically abused by parents if a pregnancy is disclosed. The Hambrick/Hansen measure allows pregnant teens to go to court to get permission for an abortion as an alternative to parental notification, but those same opponents question whether teens will have the legal sophistication to know of such an option, or the money to exercise it. It’s more likely, they say, that the teen will turn to illegal abortion to avoid either parental notification or the judicial bypass. In addition, there have been reports that the judicial process is extremely difficult and that some judges humiliate the applicant.

Rerun

“The judicial bypass in this proposed bill could last as long as 22 to 30 days and there hasn’t been a court that’s found a 30-day bypass expedient enough,” said Planned Parenthood director Elisa Erquiaga last week.

Nevada already has one parental notification law for abortion on the books (Nevada Revised Statute 442.255), enacted in 1981 and amended in 1985. It was passed before the state referendum on abortion, at a time when it was still assumed in political circles that the safe default position on abortion for politicians was opposition. The law is still on the books but is not enforced because it was enjoined as failing to “meet constitutional scrutiny” by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. That case found the law flawed in part because it “does not contain a time period within which the state district court must rule.”

The new measure contains a 1,649-word bill drafter’s explanation of how the current draft threads the needle of constitutionality so it can survive another court test.

Former Nevada assemblymember Robert Sader, an abortion supporter but also a parent, voted for that parental notification in 1985. Subsequently, over the two years until the 1987 legislature, he heard information that convinced him that notification was one of many proposals being pushed by opponents of abortion less to help parents than as part of a strategy of numerous small restrictions on abortion, in an attempt to effectively prevent the procedure from being used at all.

“So it seemed to me at the time that in the balance that the rights of the parents were fundamental enough and important enough to suggest that these court procedures ought to be required for minors,” he said later (“Then what?” RN&R, April 13, 2006). “Now, after that occurred, there was this continuing group of provisions, or let’s say new proposals, consistently proposed by the right-to-life groups that chip away at abortion laws, or a woman’s right to choose. I just grew both impatient and exasperated with the constant attempts to curtail that the right-to-life lobby proposed.”

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Dennis Myers

Dennis Myers was the news editor of the Reno News & Review. He was a journalist for more than four decades. In 1987-88 he was chief deputy secretary of state of Nevada. He was coauthor of Uniquely...