Nevada Judge Says Personhood-Abortion Amendment Too Broad for State Ballot
by Steven Ertelt
January 8, 2010
Carson City, NV (LifeNews.com) — A Nevada state judge today stuck down the language for a personhood-abortion ballot measure that would define unborn children as a person beginning at conception, or fertilization. The judge said the language was too broad and violated a state law saying ballot measures can’t cover more than one subject.
Abortion advocates in Nevada filed a lawsuit seeking to stop pro-life advocates who want to gather signatures to put a personhood measure on the ballot.
The amendment does not specifically mention abortion, but says its intent is to codify "the inalienable right to life for everyone, young or old, healthy or ill, conscious or unconscious, born or unborn."
"In the great state of Nevada, the term ‘person’ applies to every human being," the one-sentence amendment reads.
Carson City District Court Judge James Russell issued the ruling siding with the ACLU and Planned Parenthood. The pro-abortion groups say the five-paragraph description of the measure does not say that the end result would ban abortions.
"The issue to me is, are we adequately informing voters on what they’re voting on," Russell said in his ruling, according to an AP report. "There’s no way for the voter to understand the effects of the initiative."
Michael Brooks, an attorney for the Nevada personhood movement, told AP after the decision that his group would appeal the decision to the Nevada Supreme Court.
Lee Rowland, attorney for the ACLU of Nevada, told AP the language "is making thousands of direct changes" but Brooks countered that the proposal was not vague, and that "any eight-year-old" could understand it.
"This is far beyond the isolated issue of abortion," he said. "Just because it’s broad doesn’t mean it’s vague. We’re not trying to hide the ball."
In commenting on the legal challenge, Personhood Nevada president Olaf Vancura told LifeNews.com: "The abortion lobby’s plan is clear – delay, delay, delay. They are trying to run out the clock so that Nevadans cannot vote on this historic civil rights initiative."
"Their notion that this proposed Amendment violates the single-subject rule is absurd. This initiative is the epitome of a single subject. The last citizen-led initiative to successfully amend the Nevada constitution comprised over 400 words. Our proposed Amendment has only 14 words, the first 6 of which affirm that Nevada is a great state," he said.
Personhood Nevada is launching a signature drive to get the measure on the 2010 and 2012 statewide election ballots. Should the language be approved, the group will need 97,002 valid signatures on its petitions by August 4 next year and, unlike other states, Nevada requires that state constitutional amendments get two ballot votes instead of just one.
Observers say the amendment faces monumental hurdles.
If the measure is approved, pro-abortion groups would file another lawsuit to overturn it and it would likely be overturned in state or federal court.
Also, Legislative Counsel Bureau Brenda Erdoes tells the Las Vegas Review-Journal that it will run up against a 1990 law that put the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision in state law.
Not every pro-life group is on board with the strategy, with some saying that it would be a waste of time and money for what would be a certain loss in the courts and that there are better methods for ending or reducing abortions.
Don Nelson, president of Nevada Life, says money should be put towards education, legislation that has reduced abortions, or electing pro-life candidates who can help change the court so personhood amendments could be upheld.
"Right now, we feel those measures will yield more progress for the pro-life movement," Nelson said. "We would have to pull back from those efforts to get on something like this (petition) that doesn’t promise a lot of return."
"This bill has no chance of ending abortion in America or in Nevada. And the effect of this could add more precedence to supporting Roe v. Wade," he explained.
Nelson also said that the current Supreme Court will overturn the amendment and that the focus needs to be placed on changing what is currently a pro-abortion high court.
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