Nevada Personhood Amendment Loses Case at Supreme Court

State   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Dec 31, 2010   |   1:48PM   |   Carson City, NV

The personhood amendment some pro-life advocates in Nevada hoped to get on the ballot has lost in a case decided by the Nevada Supreme Court.

The state high court rejected a lawsuit filed by amendment backers saying the 2010 election year is over and there is no reason to continue the case. The Thursday decision said the court case, originally filed by Planned Parenthood against having the amendment appear on the ballot, is moot because the elections are over.

Planned Parenthood won at the lower court level and amendment supporters filed an appeal taking the case to the state Supreme Court. In January, a judge said the language was too broad and violated a state law saying ballot measures can’t cover more than one subject.

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. “There’s no way for the voter to understand the effects of the initiative.”

Backers needed to obtain 97,002 signatures to put the issue before voters but Keith Mason of Personhood USA said didn’t get a chance to collect signatures before the deadline. Mason claimed internal poling showed Nevada voters would support the amendment at the polls if they had a chance to vote on it even though 63 percent of Nevada voters in 1990 passed a ballot amendment supporting abortion.

“We are committed to coming back to Nevada,” Mason told the Las Vegas Review Journal newspaper this summer. “We are building support for 2012.”

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.

Had the ballot measure qualified even pro-life advocates said it faced 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 in the state was 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, said 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 [amendment] 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.”

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.

Colorado voters did get a chance to vote on the personhood amendment, for the second time, in 2010, and they rejected it by a large margin — with less than 30 percent of voters supporting it. Amendment 62 failed to gain a majority in any Colorado county. That included rural parts of the state, some of the largely pro-life Hispanic areas, and El Paso county — the conservative home county of Focus on the Family, which endorsed but did not actively campaign for the measure.

Colorado voters defeated Amendment 48 in 2008 by a 73-27 percentage margin with 1,605,978 voters rejecting it compared to 585,561 who were supportive. In 2010 the personhood amendment received fewer votes than in 2008.

With potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars and tens of thousands of man hours spent by pro-life advocates supporting the measure, some backers of the personhood amendment may reconsider supporting the measure a third time in favor of working to ensure pro-abortion President Barack Obama doesn’t win Colorado in his 2012 bid for re-election.