Las Vegas Sun

December 12, 2017

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ACLU files brief to keep abortion initiative off ballot

CARSON CITY – The language in an initiative petition that seeks to ban abortions in Nevada is so vague that voters would never understand the consequences, the American Civil Liberties Union says.

The brief, written by Lee Rowland, northern coordinator for the ACLU, asked the Nevada Supreme Court on Friday to keep the issue off the ballot.

The court has set oral arguments for April 6 in Las Vegas.

A group called Personhood Nevada wants to add the following to the Nevada Constitution: “In the great state of Nevada, the term ‘person’ applies to every human being.”

Rowland says the proponents want the word “person” to mean fertilized eggs, embryos and fetuses, which he says would stop abortions.

If Personhood is successful in the Supreme Court, it would still have to gather the signatures of 97,200 voters by June 15 to put it on the ballot. It would have to be passed at two elections.

Rowland said, “no matter how much proponents try to emotionalize this litigation, if the initiative were to be placed on the ballot Nevadans would have no idea what they are actually voting on.”

The ACLU is also representing Planned Parenthood of America Inc. and is asking the Supreme Court to uphold the decision of District Judge Todd Russell, who ruled the initiative petition improperly contained more than one subject and the petition failed to give adequate notice to residents what they would be voting on.

Russell ruled the petition could not appear on the ballot.

Personhood, in appealing Russell’s decision to the Supreme Court, contended there is no requirement that there be specific references to abortion, fertilized eggs, embryos or fetus. The petition maintains every human being from the beginning of life shall be considered a person entitled to life, liberty and property protection.

Rowland said this case is not about the issues but whether Personhood Nevada complied with Nevada law in drafting its initiative petition and whether voters “will have any notice of the consequences of a vote …”

She said the petition is “drafted so broadly” that it would expand the meaning of the term ‘person’ in not only the constitution but also in “countless statutes, rules and regulations and municipal codes and ordinances…”

The intended consequences, Rowland said, range from banning abortion to prohibiting the use of certain basic forms of contraception, but the petition and its description are “misleading and fail to inform voters of the material consequences of the initiative.”

The initiative is also opposed by four conservative groups that say the language is too vague and may not apply to abortion at all. They are the Nevada Eagle Forum, the Independent American Party, Nevada Families and Nevada Life.

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