Sandwiched between supporters holding “BANS OFF OUR BODIES” signs and TV cameras on Thursday, U.S. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto described her re-election campaign as a defining moment in a decades-long struggle for reproductive freedom, even in Nevada pro-abortion rights.
“I cannot stress this enough. This seat is the pathway to protecting our rights in this country,” she said at a home in the town of Sparks, a suburb of Reno. “To prevent a federal ban on abortion.”
Cortez Masto is one of many Democrats vying for re-election who are putting reproductive rights at the center of their campaign following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade. His race against Republican Adam Laxalt is expected to be among the most competitive in the nation, one of the few that could determine whether Democrats maintain control of the Senate.
As it woos moderate voters, Cortez Masto’s campaign has noted longstanding support for abortion rights in Nevada. She repeatedly referenced a 1990 statewide vote that codified abortion protections in the Nevada state constitution, with nearly two-thirds of the vote in favor.
Cortez Masto’s post represents a shift in strategy for some candidates after decades in which Roe v. Wade was considered settled law, said Rebecca Gill, a professor at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas.
“Now that there is this real, significant and palpable threat to access to reproductive health care and abortion, it is certainly possible that part of this pro-choice majority will be motivated to vote on issues of choice rather than other competing concerns”.
Laxalt, the former Nevada attorney general, stayed mostly on message — and away from the subject of abortion.
He called the court’s decision a “historic victory for the sanctity of life”, and an audio leak revealed him calling the opinion of Roe v. Wade’s “kidding,” but his campaign has continued to focus primarily on crime, immigration and rising gas prices that are part of what he calls the “Biden-Masto agenda.”
In a statement emailed to The Associated Press on Thursday, Laxalt accused Cortez Masto of “lying and fearmongering,” noting that the overturning of Roe v. Wade won’t change the Nevada law that legalizes abortion.
“And it won’t turn voters away from unaffordable prices, rising crime or the border crisis,” he said.
While much attention is paid to how state governments respond to new abortion guidelines, any nationwide abortion ban would supersede state laws. Communicating that in states where voters tend to support abortion rights like Nevada could make a difference in the general election, Gill said.
A photo of Ginni Thomas and her husband, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, drinking an expensive bottle of wine has gone viral after the Supreme Court decided to overturn Roe v. Wade. But a simple reverse image search shows the photo is actually from 2018, says MediaWise campus correspondent Loren Miranda.
Cortez Masto’s target on Thursday was moderate women in Washoe County, a swing county that includes the city of Reno, suburbs including Sparks and a large rural swath that stretches north to the Oregon border.
“No one will want to come and work here if we have laws in place, like in some states, where I, as a healthcare professional, can be accused, sued for providing human healthcare information basic,” said KC Hicks, an ER nurse who is a registered Republican but said she identifies more as an independent. Laws criminalizing health care providers who perform abortions will only lead to more staff shortages, she said, affecting everyone seeking medical care.
Yet the SCOTUS decision could also require damage control from Democrats, who hold majorities in both the US House of Representatives and Senate.
“The Democrats who are in Congress now have the problem of ‘they did nothing,'” said Mary Ziegler, a professor at Florida State University College of Law and author of several books on the legal history of the United States. abortion. “So I think some of them are in that, pointing out what would change if Republicans controlled the House, the Senate, and the White House.”
It’s a point Cortez Masto came back to again and again on Thursday: what could happen if she was replaced in November.
“There is no doubt in my mind that Republicans in the Senate are now drafting a bill to further restrict abortion in this country,” she said. “To try and pass a federal ban on abortion. This election matters. Nevada is the seat that’s going to stop that.
When asked what she did to enshrine federal abortion rights in Congress, Cortez Masto instead pointed to her longtime support for Nevada’s 1990 abortion law. She then cited federal data privacy legislation she introduced that she said would help protect women who receive reproductive health care, and her support for the Affordable Care Act when Republicans attempted to repeal it.
Stern is a member of the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places reporters in local newsrooms to report on underreported issues. Follow Stern on Twitter @gabestern326.