The Nevada Equal Rights Amendment May Actually Jeopardize Equal Rights
Nevada is, in many ways, a key battleground state in the 2022 election. With a high-profile U.S. Senate race that could determine which party controls the chamber in the 118th Congress to a competitive governor’s race where Republican challenger Joe Lombardo seeks to oust Democratic incumbent Steve Sisolak, voters in Nevada have a lot on the line.
However, many voters in Nevada may not be aware of a ballot measure that could dramatically alter which state laws any governor or legislature can enact regarding life and the family in the Silver State. Question 1 is a measure that would amend the Nevada state constitution to add Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) language. This language specifically reads, “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by this State or any of its cities, counties, or other political subdivisions on account of race, color, creed, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, age, disability, ancestry, or national origin.”
Similar ERA language has already been adopted by 25 other states and is generally framed as a simple measure to ensure equal rights to women in all areas of life. But the idea isn’t as innocent as it seems. In two states, this language has already been used to require state taxpayers to pay for elective abortions.
Take, for example, Connecticut. The people of Connecticut adopted ERA language to their state constitution in 1974 after a failed national effort to get enough states to ratify an ERA to the U.S. Constitution. Years later in 1986, the state Supreme Court ruled that the Equal Rights Amendment language required the state to cover the full expense of all elective abortions for women on Medicaid. Similarly, New Mexico ratified an ERA to its state constitution in 1973. Twenty-five years later, the New Mexico Supreme Court ruled in a unanimous decision that the ERA language required New Mexico to pay for elective abortions in the state Medicaid program. Prior to this, New Mexico had followed federal Hyde Amendment language — which only provided coverage for abortions in cases where a woman’s life was in danger or if the pregnancy was the result of rape or incest.
Nevada’s Question 1 is not being framed by legacy media outlets as having a direct impact on abortion, but if history tells us anything, adopting this language to the Nevada state constitution could have major implications for abortion laws in the state. Nevada currently allows abortion through all nine months of pregnancy because of a prior ballot measure that was adopted in 1990. However, due to an undefined “health” exception that is needed to justify abortions past 24 weeks, women in Nevada can get legal abortions for nearly any reason at any point in pregnancy.
Despite the liberal abortion laws allowing abortion at any point in pregnancy, Nevada currently does not pay for elective abortions through the state’s Medicaid program. Instead, Nevada follows the federal Hyde Amendment language only covering abortions for rare cases like the vast majority of other states do.
Additionally, the ERA could lead to a host of unintended consequences, unwinding all of the achievements women have worked so hard for in education, athletics, and business. If this language were to be inserted into the state constitution it could mandate that men who self-identify as women be allowed to compete in female sports, force women’s shelters to be open to men, and even undermine a recent law passed in 2017 that provides specific opportunities to female business owners. Instead of achieving its intended effect of protecting women’s rights through state and local laws, inserting this ERA language into Nevada’s constitution could wind up doing the complete opposite.
As Nevada voters head to the polls this election to vote in key U.S. Senate and statewide elections, it is important to recognize the impact that this ballot measure will have on what laws can be passed and enforced in the state of Nevada. While the ERA language may seem like a straightforward way to further ensure that women are equally protected in state law, it also carries a past precedent of being used to force taxpayers to pay for abortions and jeopardize existing legal protections for women.
Connor Semelsberger is Director of Federal Affairs - Life and Human Dignity at Family Research Council.