Nevada Judge Rules Fetal Personhood Initiative Misleading To Voters

WASHINGTON -- Nevada's anti-abortion movement experienced a setback on Monday when a district judge ruled that a new fetal personhood ballot measure -- similar to the high-profile measure that recently failed in Mississippi -- is misleading to voters. The judge rewrote the initiative to include all of its potential effects on birth control, in vitro fertilization, treatment for ectopic pregnancies and stem cell research.

The personhood initiative, filed by the Nevada Prolife Coalition, would amend the state constitution to protect "the unalienable right to life of every prenatal person" at all stages of biological development. Nevada law requires that all initiatives be accompanied by an explanation of their effects to help voters make informed decisions, but Nevada Prolife Coalition's official explanation of the measure only discusses its effects on the legality of abortion.

Legal medical and legal experts have said granting fertilized egg legal personhood could have far-reaching legal consequences even beyond women's health and reproductive rights. Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union challenged the Nevada personhood measure in October, charging that it was misleading to voters because it did not list the measure's full ramifications.

"Nevadans deserve to know that this initiative seeks to outlaw women’s health services like abortion, the birth control pill and treatment for complicated pregnancies, just to name a few," Elisa Cafferata, president and CEO of Nevada Advocates for Planned Parenthood Affiliates, said in a statement. "Nearly 20 years ago Nevada voters affirmed the tenets of Roe vs. Wade and a woman’s right to privacy. Nevadans do not support interfering in women’s personal and private decision making."

Keith Mason, the president of Personhood USA, the national group behind the Nevada initiative, said Planned Parenthood's statements about the effects of the initiative were not true.

"It only affects those procedures in as much as they kill an innocent person; it does not ban those things at all," he said.

Nevada District Judge James E. Wilson sided with the plaintiffs on Monday, determining that Nevada Prolife Coalition's description of effect "is inadequate" to inform voters. He did not rule the measure illegal, but he ordered Nevada Prolife Coalition to substitute the following language into the initiative before it starts collecting signatures:

The initiative would protect a prenatal person regardless of whether or not the prenatal person would live, grow, or develop in the womb or survive birth; prevent all abortions even in the case of rape, incest, or serious threats to the woman’s health or life, or when a woman is suffering from a miscarriage, or as an emergency treatment for an ectopic pregnancy. The initiative will impact some rights Nevada women currently have to access certain fertility treatments such as in vitro fertilization. The initiative will impact some rights Nevada women currently have to utilize some forms of birth control, including the “pill;” and to access certain fertility treatments such as in vitro fertilization. The initiative will affect embryonic stem cell research, which offers potential for treating diseases such as diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, heart disease, and others.

The Nevada Prolife Coalition has to collect 72,352 valid signatures by June to get the measure on next year's ballot. Similar amendments are being pushed in nearly a dozen other states -- including Georgia, Virginia and Florida -- for the 2012 election. Republican lawmakers in Congress have also introduced three similar personhood bills on a federal level.

"What this amounts to is the judge forcing us to carry the opponents' talking points in the summary of the bill," Personhood USA's Mason said. "We do not agree with that at all, and we're making the decision of whether to refile the measure with new language or appeal to the Supreme Court."