War on women: The Nevada front
This is the tale of a terrible bill and a shocking number of legislators willing to cast the reproductive rights of women aside in a ‘horse-trade’ of discrimination and potentially great harm.
Let’s begin with Feb. 26, the day the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, SB 192, was introduced by ultra-conservative Sen. Barbara Cegavske. To long-time legislative observers, the bill was classic Cegavske, a boilerplate screed, using freedom of religion to cover up its real objective, to give pharmacists and doctors the right to deny prescriptions or medical services for reproductive care they morally disagree with, such as birth control, the morning-after pill or a legal abortion.
The bill’s puzzling summary should have been warning enough: “Enacts the Nevada Preservation of Religious Freedom Act to prohibit governmental entities from substantially burdening the exercise of religion.” It’s hard to think of how the government “substantially burdens” religious practices in a country founded on freedom of religion (see Section 4 of Article 1 of the Nevada Constitution and the First Amendment to the United States Constitution).
But what stunned many were the eight Democratic senators (Denis, Ford, Jones, Kihuen, Parks, Segerblom, Smith and Woodhouse) who signed on as cosponsors, joining eight Republican senators.
When questioned by advocates, the Democrats said the bill was harmless, and they were being encouraged to sign Republican bills to foster the “new spirit of bi-partisanship” in the 2013 session. Others said once they saw the names of progressive senators like Tick Segerblom, they assumed the bill was fine. Some defended their sponsorship, saying the bill was necessary to make sure religious rights were protected, while others insisted no one should worry because surely the bill would be killed “on the other side [in the Assembly].”
Progressives shrugged, assuming SB 192 would meet the usual fate of Sen. Cegavske’s bills in a Legislature controlled by Democrats and die a quiet death. Yet by the first house passage deadline, somehow the religious freedom bill had become a bargaining chip for the “higher policy goal” of marriage equality, leaving many wondering how taking away rights from one group of citizens to give rights to another group of citizens could ever be envisioned as a fair “trade.”
The issue comes down to two polarizing viewpoints: those who believe a pharmacist with moral qualms about filling certain prescriptions should be able to deny women he doesn’t deem worthy and those who feel a pharmacist must fill a legal prescription, regardless of personal religious views.
The American Medical Association has denounced “right to deny” medical care bills because “refusals endanger patients’ lives and health and can have irreversible consequences.” Indeed, many cases have been documented around the country of women in emergency situations who have been near death from a miscarriage or other condition and encountered a doctor or hospital refusing to provide a life-saving abortion. SB 192 would give these medical professionals extra legal protections in case a woman died in that circumstance.
On April 22, the bill cleared the Senate on a 14-7 vote, with just a handful of Democrats voting against the right-wing attack on reproductive rights, including four who originally signed on as cosponsors. Later that evening, the marriage equality amendment also passed the Senate, 12-9, trade completed, moving Nevada forward towards equality on one front while taking a giant step backward in terms of protecting women’s rights.
Progressives should ask Sens. Brower, Cegavske, Denis, Goicoechea, Gustavson, Hammond, Hardy, Hutchison, Jones, Kieckhefer, Kihuen, Roberson, Segerblom, and Settlemeyer—all men except for Cegavske—why they voted to allow a medical provider’s religious beliefs to interfere with reproductive health care rights.
And Nevada women: Don’t take your rights for granted. When there’s a “higher policy goal,” they can be quickly traded away.