CARSON CITY – Two initiative petitions filed with the Secretary of State’s office that would amend the state constitution to outlaw abortion by declaring that life begins at conception are already facing legal challenges from the ACLU and Planned Parenthood.
The petitions were filed in September by Personhood Nevada and the Nevada Prolife Coalition.
Supporters of the measures would need to collect 72,352 valid signatures by June 19 to have them placed on the November 2012 general election ballot. The measures would have to be approved by voters twice, in 2012 and again in 2014, to take effect.
A lawsuit was filed Thursday against the Personhood initiative. The second legal challenge was filed today against the Nevada Prolife proposal. The lawsuits argue the initiatives are vague and misleading.
Nevada law allows petitions to be challenged before signatures can be gathered.
Personhood Nevada tried to circulate a petition for the 2010 general election ballot but the effort did not survive a similar court challenge. Carson City District Judge James Todd Russell ruled the proposed petition was too vague. The Nevada Supreme Court later rejected an appeal saying the issue was moot.
Opponents of the measures say that if approved, the initiatives could ban vital health services by granting legal protections to fertilized eggs, embryos and fetuses.
“We see over 50,000 patients each year in our Nevada health centers. They rely on Planned Parenthood for a wide range of health care, including basic preventive care that could become illegal if this ballot initiative becomes law,” said Elisa Cafferata, president and CEO of Nevada Advocates for Planned Parenthood Affiliates. “In these tough economic times, we shouldn’t be taking away access to lifesaving preventive health care.”
Chet Gallagher, who is heading up the Prolife Coalition effort, said he is not surprised that the groups are attempting to defeat the initiatives even before signature collection efforts can begin. But it is disappointing that the groups are trying to keep voters from having a say in the debate, he said.
“We want to give the voters an opportunity to vote on whether or not abortion should end in our state,” he said. “So I’m a little perplexed when groups like the ACLU and Planned Parenthood, who profess to be pro-choice, would attempt to disenfranchise the voters, keeping them from actually voting on it.
“We’re not real happy that we’re being sued in court by people who should be protecting our freedoms instead of disenfranchising voters,” Gallagher said.
The two ballot groups are working together, Gallagher said. Voters haven’t had a say on the abortion issue since 1990, when a constitutional amendment keeping abortion legal in Nevada was approved by voters.
Gallagher has been a long-time anti-abortion advocate after losing his job as a Las Vegas police officer in 1989 for participating in an anti-abortion rally while on duty.
“We believe children in the womb are persons,” said Gallagher, who also noted that Nevada is one of 38 states that have a law against fetal homicide. “The duplicity has to be exposed.”
Candy Best of Las Vegas, the spokeswoman for the Personhood petition drive, expressed similar concerns about the legal challenge.
“That has been, apparently, the strategy, to just run out our time clock according to the deadlines in place by the initiative process, but we’re going forward,” she said. “There is an initiative process in place with the state of Nevada. And we, as citizens of the state, should be able to follow that process without constantly being shut town.
“We’re merely trying to get the initiative on the ballot and let the people of Nevada make a decision on their own,” Best said.
But Dane Claussen, executive director of the ACLU of Nevada, said it serves no one’s interest to move forward with initiative petitions that are clearly unconstitutional.
“It’s a waste of everyone’s resources to present voters with a choice that would be invalidated later if not sooner,” he said. “This notion that voters should be able to sign petitions for an ‘unconstitutional’ constitutional amendment is just kind of silly. We need to respect the voters of Nevada more than that. We need to respect their time, their intelligence and the entire process.”
The new initiatives have the same flaws that were raised successfully in the last election cycle, Claussen said.
“And now there are two defective initiatives instead of only one,” he said.
An effort by a separate ballot advocacy group to challenge Nevada’s processes for qualifying initiative petitions following the 2008 election cycle failed to get the rules changed in any significant way. Because of the rules, legal challenges to petition drives are commonplace in Nevada before signatures can even be collected.
No groups were successful in getting measures on the ballot in 2010, the first time that had happened since 1992.
Prolife Coalition spokesman Chet Gallagher says voters should have a chance to weigh in on the abortion issue:
Gallagher says he is being sued by groups that are supposed to be protecting voter rights:
Personhood Nevada spokeswoman Candy Best says the strategy is to run out the clock by using legal challenges:
Best says citizens should be able to put a measure on the ballot:
Dane Claussen, executive director of the ACLU of Nevada, says it is a waste of resources to present voters with a choice that will be invalidated:
Claussen says the idea that voters should be able to sign petitions for an unconstitutional amendment is silly: