If Adam Laxalt’s Senate race becomes a referendum on abortion, he’ll lose. The Republican is running in Nevada, a solidly pro-choice state where voters in 1990 overwhelmingly approved a ballot measure that codified the right to abortion up to 24 weeks. Support for reproductive rights remains strong to this day: A recent survey by the Nevada Independent and OH Predictive Insights found that 90 percent of voters thought that abortion should be legal in some or all circumstances. Only 10 percent thought it should be made illegal.
And so as he makes his case to Nevada voters, Laxalt has sought to avoid the issue of abortion, insisting when pressed that even if he disagrees with Nevada’s pro-choice policies, they won’t be in jeopardy if he’s sent to the Senate. In an August op-ed published in the Reno-Gazette Journal, he accused his rival, Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, of spreading the “falsehood” that he would support a national ban on abortion.
But by claiming that the state’s protections are “settled law” (does that phrase sound familiar?), Laxalt is asking asking voters to believe that, if Republicans’ plan for an nationwide abortion ban came to the floor, he’d break with his party and cast one of the most important pro-choice votes in U.S. history. And that is a highly dubious claim from a candidate who has spent his career taking every opportunity to restrict reproductive rights, and who, despite his attempts to minimize them, has deep ties to the anti-abortion movement.
As attorney general for Nevada from 2015 to 2019, Laxalt filed multiple briefs boostering anti-abortion causes, without consulting the state’s pro-choice govenor: He asked the Supreme Court to overturn a California law imposing rules on crisis pregancy centers, he asked an appeals court to uphold a Texas law effectively banning abortions in the second trimester, and a different appeals court to uphold an Alabama law that would do the same. He also supported, as AG, a federal rule that would empower nurses, doctors, and pharmacists to refuse care to women seeking emergency contraception or abortion, refuse gender-affirming care to trans patients, and deny people living with HIV medication to manage their condition.
Before he became Nevada’s top cop, Laxalt was a founding member of the St. Thomas More Society of Southern Nevada. That particular chapter no longer appears to be active, but the national outfit achieved notoriety earlier this year for working to advance legislation that would allow private citizens to sue anyone who helps a resident of a state where abortion is banned obtain an abortion in a state where it is legal, like Nevada. Laxalt’s campaign did not respond to an inquiry from Rolling Stone about whether he supported the St. Thomas More Society’s proposed law.
That is part of a pattern in this race, as Laxalt has sought to minimize the public exposure of his anti-abortion views. In May, for example, two days after the Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade leaked to the public, Laxalt tweeted — and then deleted — photos chronicling his attendance at gala for Nevada Right to Life in a post thanking the group for its endorsement.
Laxalt didn’t disavow the group, or its beliefs — National Right to Life, the group’s parent organization, supports Sen. Lindsey Graham’s proposed national ban on abortion — he just, apparently, didn’t want that association to be all that public after all. (Laxalt’s campaign did not respond to an inquiry about why he deleted the tweet.)
A week after that gala, Laxalt was photographed sitting with Nevada Right to Life’s executive director, Melissa Clement, at a different anti-abortion gala — this one for a Las Vegas Crisis Pregnancy Center.
In June, Laxalt attended a pastor’s meeting in Reno, where, according to audio obtained by the Nevada Independent, he called the Roe v. Wade ruling a “joke” bemoaned the fact that Nevada is “not a pro-life state. We all have to be honest about that. It’s sad, it doesn’t make me happy. But we are not a pro-life state.”
Laxalt’s family has well-documented ties to Clement: His sister, Tessa, has called her a “good friend,” and his wife, Jamie, signed a 2017 letter sponsored by he Pro-Life League of Nevada, another group Clement headed, calling on Congress to defund Planned Parenthood.
In 2019, Laxalt spoke at a Camp Joshua, sponsored by the Pro-Life League of Nevada, when he was AG. The camp borrows its name from the bible, in hopes that “[j]ust as Joshua took down the walls of Jericho, the young men and women of Camp Joshua will lead their generation in bringing down the walls of the culture of death.”
Camp Joshua resembles a traditional sleepaway camp, but instead of crafts and canoeing, there are workshops on “pro-life apologetics” and “chastity,” with the ultimate goal of creating outspoken leaders ready to take “their places in the pro-life movement across Nevada and beyond” where “their impact will be felt for the next several decades.”
For students who were trained to crusade loudly and proudly against abortion at Camp Joshua, Laxalt’s Senate campaign this year might be confusing. Or maybe it isn’t. Maybe it’s obvious to them that he is just saying whatever he needs to say to get elected, and that, once safely in office, he’ll vote with his well-documented conscience and have an impact that will be felt for the next several decades.