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Tom Kertscher
By Tom Kertscher June 23, 2022

Nevada GOP Senate hopeful Adam Laxalt open to tightening abortion restrictions, but not banning it

If Your Time is short

  • Abortion is allowed in Nevada during the first 24 weeks without restrictions. After 24 weeks, an abortion is allowed if it is to preserve the woman’s life or health. Laxalt has said that abortion rights in Nevada are "settled law."

  • At the same time, Laxalt has indicated support for tightening abortion access by asking voters in a referendum to restrict abortion in Nevada to the first 13 weeks of pregnancy.

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. 

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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.

Our ruling

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.

RELATED: Fact-checking ads in the 2022 campaigns

RELATED: What would state laws look like in a post-Roe world?

RELATED: The race for the Nevada Senate seat: A guide

Our Sources

Meta, Catherine Cortez Masto ad, June 14 to June 21, 2022

Facebook, Catherine Cortez Masto ad, accessed June 20, 2022

Email, Catherine Cortez Masto campaign spokesperson Josh Marcus-Blank, June 15, 2022

Email, University of Nevada, Las Vegas political scientist David Damore, June 20, 2022

Nevada Legislature, NRS 442.250 , accessed June 21, 2022

Interview, law professor David Orentlicher, director of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas Health Law Program, June 20, 2022

Texas Attorney General, U.S. Supreme Court amicus brief in California case, January 2018

Texas Attorney General, "Protect Life/Unborn

AG Pax­ton Leads 22-State Coali­tion in Fil­ing Brief with U.S. Supreme Court to Pro­tect the Unborn and Uphold Free Speech Rights," Jan. 16, 2018 

Nevada Independent, "Laxalt signs up Nevada to defend Texas abortion ban law," March 14, 2018

Nevada Independent, "Laxalt signs Nevada on to support Alabama," July 13, 2018

Twitter, Catherine Cortez Masto tweet, May 16, 2022

Las Vegas Review-Journal, "VICTOR JOECKS: How Nevada Republicans can win on abortion," archived here, May 14, 2022, "Issues," accessed June 20, 2022

PolitiFact, "What would state laws look like in a post-Roe world?", May 3, 2022

FindLaw, "Nevada Abortion Laws," May 5, 2022

Twitter, Adam Laxalt tweet, May 3, 2022

Tampa Bay Times, Gov. DeSantis just signed a 15-week abortion ban. Here are 3 things that come next.

KOLO TV, "AG Laxalt files anti-abortion court briefs despite 1990 referendum," June 13, 2018

Nevada Legislative Counsel Research Library, "Nevada Ballot Questions 1990," accessed June 20, 2022

Nevada Attorney General, "Attorney General Ford Releases Transcript of Remarks on Recent Developments in Abortion Law," May 3, 2022, "If Roe v Wade overturned, Adam Laxalt says states to decide abortion law," May 17, 2022

National Right to Life, "National Right to Life Endorses Adam Laxalt in Nevada Senate Race," April 21, 2022

Email, Caroline Mello Roberson, southwest regional director, NARAL Pro-Choice America, June 22, 2022

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Nevada GOP Senate hopeful Adam Laxalt open to tightening abortion restrictions, but not banning it

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