Arguments heard on initiative

The state Supreme Court probably will decide soon whether an initiative aimed at redefining state law to prevent abortions will be allowed on the ballot in November.

The group promoting the initiative, Personhood Nevada, appealed to the high court after a District Judge ruled the petition was broad and vague and that it violated state law, limiting initiatives to one subject.

At a Tuesday hearing before the seven justices, attorney Mike Peters said the lower court judge was wrong because he looked beyond the focus of the initiative and toward what effect it would have if passed.

Peters said the petition's goal is to have the term "person" apply to every human being.

The petition states that a "human being" includes all members of the human species from "the beginning of his or her biological development, without discrimination as to age, health, reproduction method, function, physical or mental dependency or cognitive ability."

Peters said, "We all know that from the abortion standpoint, this will close the gap. It will extend the meaning of human being back to a prenatal child."

Personhood Nevada believes changing the meaning of "person" would outlaw all abortions, by extending civil rights protections under the constitution to fetuses from the point of conception. It also would prohibit certain types of birth control.

Planned Parenthood and the ACLU of Nevada have fought against the petition because nowhere does it mention that voting for the initiative would effect abortion and birth control rights.

In their brief to the Supreme Court, ACLU lawyers said the initiative "utterly fails to inform voters of the breadth of these changes, much less accurately describe its intended purposes and consequences."

The brief goes on to state that if the initiative were to be placed on the ballot, "Nevada voters would have no idea what they were actually voting on."

ACLU lawyer Lee Rowland said although Personhood Nevada has said publicly they aim to redefine life to mean from the moment of fertilization, "the initiative doesn't even say that much."

Voters, especially women, have the right to know what rights they are being asked to give up, Rowland said.

It's unclear when the high court will rule, but a decision is expected quickly to potentially meet upcoming qualifying deadlines for initiatives to be placed on the ballot.

PersonhoodUSA is a Christian-based group that is trying to put amendments and laws into effect in more than 30 states.

Voters in some states, such as Colorado, already have rejected Personhood ballot measures.

To become part of the state constitution, Personhood supporters need to collect 97,002 valid signatures on petitions by August.

Voters then would have to approve the plan in both the 2010 and 2012 elections before it would become part of the state constitution.

Contact reporter Francis McCabe at or 702-380-1039.