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FactChecking DSCC’s Abortion Ad in Nevada Senate Race

Adam Laxalt, the Republican candidate for Senate in Nevada, opposes abortion and has called the overturning of Roe v. Wade a “historic victory.” But he has not voiced support for criminalizing abortion for women, as the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee suggests in a TV ad that shows a woman being arrested for having an abortion. 

Democrats have made abortion rights a major issue this campaign cycle after the Supreme Court in June voted to overturn Roe v. Wade, which had guaranteed the constitutional right to abortion for 49 years.

In Nevada, Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto supports abortion rights, while Laxalt opposes them. The race is considered a tossup, and a key to Democratic hopes of maintaining the party’s slim control in the Senate.

On Oct. 29, the DSCC released the ad in Nevada that attacks Laxalt’s position on abortion.

The ad, titled “Arrest,” shows a police officer arriving at a woman’s home, handcuffing her and putting her into a police car. As the arrest is taking place, the ad’s narrator says, “Laxalt would let states outlaw abortion, criminalize it, even for victims of rape or incest.”

We could find no examples of Laxalt supporting criminalizing abortion for women or explaining his stance on exceptions for rape or incest. (PolitiFact.com also couldn’t find any statements Laxalt made about exceptions for rape or incest when it wrote about a different DSCC ad that claimed Laxalt would “let Nevada and other states ban abortion with zero exceptions.”)

When we asked for evidence that Laxalt supports criminalizing abortion for women, the DSCC provided none. Instead, DSCC spokesperson Nora Keefe cited Laxalt’s statement on the Supreme Court ruling, in which he called it a “historic victory,” and a remark a month earlier in which he described the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling as “wrongly decided.”

“By supporting the overturn of Roe v. Wade, Laxalt supports giving states control over abortion rights – which could lead to criminal penalties,” Keefe told us.

The Laxalt campaign did not respond to our questions about the candidate’s abortion position — specifically regarding his positions on access to medication abortion and criminalizing abortion for women or medical providers.

However, the Republican candidate wrote an Aug. 2 op-ed on abortion for the Reno Gazette Journal. Laxalt wrote that he opposes a national ban on abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy, as proposed by Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, and instead supports allowing each state to decide the issue.

In Nevada, voters approved a ballot question in 1990 that made abortion legal for up to 24 weeks. “The Supreme Court ruling in Dobbs did not change Nevada law in this regard,” as Laxalt wrote in his op-ed.

Laxalt added that he would support another voter referendum that would make abortion illegal in Nevada after 13 weeks.

“A journalist recently asked me if I would support a referendum limiting abortion to the first 13 weeks of pregnancy, essentially, the first trimester,” Laxalt wrote. “I said that I would, and I stand by that view.”

In his op-ed, Laxalt didn’t address whether he supports making it a crime for a woman to have an illegal abortion or whether he supports restrictions on access to abortion pills, also known as self-managed abortion and medication abortion.

The DSCC’s position is that Laxalt’s support for overturning Roe v. Wade puts women in jeopardy since states can make it a crime for women to have an abortion.

No state currently has a law that criminalizes abortion for women, and there is no pending legislation that would do so, Emily Nash, a state policy expert at the Guttmacher Institute, told us in an email.

“But there are a couple of states that have laws that prohibit self-managed abortion,” Nash said, referring to abortion pills or medication abortion.

Pregnant women can induce an abortion by taking a two-drug combination of mifepristone followed a day or two later by misoprostol. Texas bans medication abortion — which is approved by the Food and Drug Administration to end a pregnancy through 10 weeks gestation — starting at seven weeks and Indiana does so at 10 weeks, according to Guttmacher, which supports abortion rights.

“We have seen over the past several decades (and including recently) that women have been prosecuted for self-managing an abortion or assisting someone to self-manage, even without a specific law in place,” Nash told us in an email. “Note that Louisiana considered a law like this early in the year.”

Guttmacher referred us to a report, produced by an abortion rights advocacy group called If/When/How, that identified 61 cases in 26 states from 2000 to 2020 in which people were “criminally investigated or arrested for allegedly ending their own pregnancy or helping someone else do so” before Roe v. Wade was overturned.

“So it is not unreasonable to believe that some states may take steps to ban self-managed abortion,” Nash said, adding that some states are already “using other laws such as fetal homicide, child neglect and practicing medicine without a license to prosecute those who have self-managed.”

A group of 68 state and local prosecutors in 2019 issued a statement in opposition to state laws that criminalize abortions, saying some laws “are ambiguous or silent as to whom they would hold criminally responsible, leaving open the potential for criminalizing patients.” The Georgia law — a six-week ban that passed in 2019, but didn’t take effect until this year — says: “A person convicted of the offense of criminal abortion shall be punished by imprisonment for not less than one nor more than ten years.”

But most state laws banning abortion don’t allow for the prosecution of pregnant women.

Guttmacher sent us a spreadsheet with information on 14 states that make abortion a crime, and 11 of the 14 states specifically exempt women from criminal prosecution. For example, Arizona’s 2022 law, which bans abortion at 15 weeks, states: “A pregnant woman on whom an abortion is performed, induced or attempted in violation of section 36-2322 may not be prosecuted for conspiracy to commit any violation of this article.”

Laxalt’s opposition to Roe v. Wade will make it harder, if not impossible, for abortion rights supporters to codify Roe v. Wade at the national level. It also allows states to pass their own abortion laws — which is something that he has said he welcomes. That much Laxalt and the DSCC agree on.

But we haven’t found — and the DSCC didn’t provide — any evidence that Laxalt supports prosecuting pregnant women for having an abortion.

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