Lack of signatures will keep anti-abortion amendment off ballot

CARSON CITY -- A Christian-based group's anti-abortion petition will not appear on the November ballot.

A national leader of the Personhood-USA movement said Thursday the group won't be able to collect the required number of signatures by Tuesday's deadline

The proposed constitutional amendment would halt abortions in Nevada.

PersonhoodUSA co-founder Keith Mason said the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada and Planned Parenthood through litigation have "run out the clock on us" and prevented the organization from collecting the required 97,002 signatures to put the issue before voters.

The state Supreme Court still has not ruled on Personhood Nevada's appeal of a lower court decision that prevented the group from circulating its petition.

Carson City District Judge James T. Russell ruled Jan. 8 that the Personhood petition could not be circulated because its language was so vague that voters would not understand its intentions.

Personhood Nevada appealed the decision, and the Supreme Court held a hearing but has not yet issued its decision.

Mason said his group decided a month ago that an attempt to collect signatures in Nevada this year would be futile, but Personhood will start a new petition drive in 2012.

"We are committed to coming back to Nevada," Mason said. "We are building support for 2012."

He expects the state Supreme Court will overturn Russell's decision and rule the Personhood petition can be circulated in its present form.

If it does, then Personhood should be able to circulate its petition in 2012 without additional legal challenges, Mason said.

"The polling in Nevada we have done indicates we would prevail if we get it on the ballot," he said.

Lee Rowland, northern coordinator of the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada, said she hoped the Supreme Court would have made a decision by this time but thinks the court will decide the language "was hopelessly vague."

The petition does not mention the word abortion.

Rowland denied the ACLU tried to use legal delays to hold up the collection of signatures.

"We fully cooperated with the defendant's request for an expedited schedule" of legal briefings, she said. "We didn't oppose motions to speed up the briefing. We worked hard to move this through the court as quickly as possible."

That said, Rowland added the ACLU felt bound to challenge a petition that she said was so vague that people could not understand what it meant.

PersonhoodUSA is trying in 30 states to pass laws or constitutional amendments that define all humans as "persons" from the moment of "biological development" to the natural end of their lives.

Colorado voters rejected by a 73 percent to 27 percent vote in 2008 a proposed constitutional amendment with language similar to the Nevada petition.

The PersonhoodUSA organization is seeking to find a legal way to overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, which allows abortions.

In that decision, Justice Harry Blackmun said if "personhood" could be established for a fetus, then the fetus's right to life would be guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.

But 63 percent of Nevada voters in 1990 passed a ballot question that made Roe v. Wade part of Nevada law. The law cannot be changed without a vote of the people.

Olaf Vancura, president of Personhood Nevada, said in January that any birth control pill or other forms of contraception that end pregnancies or destroy "newly formed life" would be outlawed if voters approve their proposed constitutional amendment.

Birth control designed to prevent a pregnancy before one occurs would not be prohibited, he said.

"It is really very simple," said Vancura, who described himself as a scientist with a doctorate in physics.

"Our amendment is about life and the right to life. Forms of birth control that do not cause an abortion would not be prohibited. With an abortion, someone dies."

Contact Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel at or 775-687-3901.