Challenge to Nevada personhood initiative filed
November 13, 2009
Lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada and Planned Parenthood filed a legal challenge Thursday against a proposed ballot measure that seeks to define a person and override Nevada’s abortion laws.
The suit was filed in the district court in Carson City on behalf of Emmily Bristol, a feminist Las Vegas blogger who is 12 weeks pregnant; Dr. William Ramos, a Las Vegas physician; and Mindy Hsu, a Sparks pharmacist.
Among other things, the suit said the description of the initiative’s purpose is misleading and violates a state law that limits referendum questions to a single subject.
Additionally, the measure was challenged on grounds it constitutes an entire revision of the state constitution, as opposed to a simple amendment, and therefore cannot be pursued through the initiative process.
“This broad-ranging initiative fails to inform voters that its passage would interfere with doctors’ ability to treat life-threatening pregnancies, miscarriages and infertility, and eliminate a woman’s right to make personal, private health care decisions,” said ACLU attorney Lee Rowland.
The Nevada “personhood” initiative was filed last month by Richard Ziser, a conservative activist in Las Vegas who earlier this decade led a successful campaign to ban gay marriage in Nevada.
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The initiative seeks to define a person and extend due process rights to “everyone possessing a human genome” from the beginning of biological development through end of life.
“This amendment codifies the inalienable right to life for everyone, young or old, healthy or ill, conscious or unconscious, born or unborn,” according to the petition filed Oct. 21 with the secretary of state’s office.
Ziser could not be reached immediately for comment.
Judie Brown, president of American Life League, a backer of the personhood movement, said there was nothing misleading about the initiative’s intent.
“The intent is what it is,” she told The Associated Press in a telephone interview from Stafford, Va. “To protect human beings equally and to make sure every single human being is treated justly and with equal rights under the law.”
Voters in 1990 passed a referendum protecting abortion rights in Nevada and prohibiting any changes to the law except by a direct vote of the people. Under existing law, doctors can perform abortions within the first 24 weeks of pregnancy, and after that only to protect the health of the mother.
Rowland said under the measure, patients and medical providers could face potential criminal charges or civil lawsuits.
“Since the Nevada electorate has gone to the polls to protect a woman’s right to choose, and the U.S. Supreme Court has held that banning all abortions violate women’s constitutional rights, this initiative seeks a radical new course for Nevada in not only reversing those decisions but further eliminating most birth control and fertility treatments as well,” Rowland said.
Depending on the outcome of the legal challenge, backers of the initiative would need to gather about 97,000 signatures to qualify for the November 2010 ballot. It would have to be approved by voters again in 2012 to be included in the constitution.