Nevada governor signs new abortion protections into law

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Nevada Gov. Joe Lombardo signed legislation late Tuesday that protects abortion rights for out-of-state patients seeking care in the state, as well as for providers within the state.

In doing so, Lombardo became one of a handful of Republican governors to move to codify abortion rights — and the only swing-state GOP governor to do so in recent years. It could signal a degree of willingness within the party to moderate on an issue that has become a political liability following the Supreme Court’s decision last year striking down Roe v. Wade. That decision gave states wide latitude to set abortion policy.

Abortion is already legal in Nevada under a voter referendum passed decades ago. The new bill signed by Lombardo effectively put into law an executive order signed last year by then-Gov. Steve Sisolak — the Democrat whom Lombardo narrowly defeated in November. That order banned Nevada officials and agencies from helping with investigations conducted by other states into their own residents who’d sought abortion care in Nevada.

The bill also barred state medical boards, commissions and licensing committees from disciplining or disqualifying physicians in the state who provide abortion care.

During the campaign, Lombardo often made contradictory statements about his stance on specific issues related to abortion. The Republican said that his “personal belief is pro-life” and that he would support a voter referendum changing state law to ban abortion after the 13th week of pregnancy. However, he also repeatedly acknowledged that abortion was legal under Nevada law until the 24th week of pregnancy.

In addition, Lombardo said at one point during the campaign that he would repeal Sisolak’s executive order on abortion, only to reverse that position as well.

Lombardo joins a small group of Republican governors — including Phil Scott of Vermont and Charlie Baker of Massachusetts, who left office in January — who in recent years have enacted laws enshrining abortion protections in their states. His decision to sign the bill also highlights the challenges the Republican Party broadly faces regarding reproductive rights.

Following the Supreme Court’s decision last summer to strike down federal abortion rights, Republicans have struggled on the issue. Polling shows that voters broadly favor abortion protections — which Democrats put at the center of their successful bid to keep the U.S. Senate and key governorships last year. While the party lost control of the House, it was by a significantly smaller margin than had been expected.

The trend persisted into this year, when a liberal Wisconsin judge made abortion rights a centerpiece of her campaign for the state Supreme Court and won the seat by 11 percentage points in the crucial swing state.

Meanwhile, many Republicans — including several running for president in 2024 — have pushed stricter abortion bans, or proposed bans.

Back in Nevada, the state Republican Party tweeted last month, when the bill advanced through the Democratic-controlled state Senate with the support of two Republican legislators, that it was “horrified” that the bill passed with any GOP backing at all.

A spokesperson for the Nevada Republican Party did not immediately respond to questions from NBC News regarding Lombardo’s decision to sign the bill.

Lombardo’s decision drew plaudits from Democrats in the state, as well as state and national abortion rights groups — though many did not mention him by name. Others aimed their praise more directly at Nevada Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro, a Democrat who sponsored the bill in the chamber.

"The vast majority of Nevadans and all Americans support abortion access and reproductive freedom. GOP politicians like Gov. Lombardo know this is true. Signing this legislation into law wasn’t just the right thing to do, it was the only thing to do to align with the will of Nevada voters," NARAL Pro-Choice America Southwest Regional Director Caroline Mello Roberson said in a statement to NBC News.

“It’s official! Gov. Lombardo signed SB131 into law!” tweeted Planned Parenthood Votes Nevada, the political arm in Nevada of the national reproductive rights group. The group added that it was “grateful” to Cannizzaro “and her fellow legislators” for “leading the effort to protect Nevada’s abortion providers and out-of-state patients.”

Cannizzaro, for her part, praised Lombardo in a tweet, writing, “I want thank him for following through on his commitment to ensure that Nevada won’t participate in prosecutions of women who come here to exercise their reproductive rights.”

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