CARSON CITY — The ACLU, Planned Parenthood and several individuals filed a lawsuit today challenging the language in the “Personhood” petition whose sponsors want to overturn the U.S. Supreme Court decision allowing abortion.
Maggie McLetchie, a staff lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada, said the description in the Personhood petition doesn’t explain to voters what its objective is.
“The petition and the description are misleading,” she said, explaining the lawsuit filed in Carson City District Court. “The whole thing is a mess.”
If the lawsuit is successful, the petition still could be allowed on the November ballot if the language was modified to meet a judge’s requirements.
Richard Ziser, the conservative Las Vegas activist who announced the Personhood petition drive on Oct. 21, said it is clear from litigation that the ACLU and Planned Parenthood understand the petition’s objectives.
“It is to protect the life of the unborn,” he said. “They would prefer we used the term abortion. We will see what we will end up with.”
Ziser said previously that he expected the lawsuit and planned for litigation costs, and decided to hold off on circulating the petition among Nevada voters until legal challenges are settled.
Besides trying to stop abortion, the petition would prevent the state government from making end-of-life decisions for old and sick people, he said. That issue emerged at the federal level earlier this year during heated discussions on a provision in the health care reform bill before Congress.
But the description language in the petition does not even mention the word abortion. Instead it applies the term “person” to every human being.
According to the petition, persons or human beings “include everyone possessing a human genome specific for an individual member of the human specifies, 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.”
McLetchie said the petition is not only an attempt to overturn the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision allowing abortion, but also an attempt to outlaw abortions in cases of rape or incest.
She said many people oppose abortions, but often not in cases of rape or incest.
McLetchie said the petition should make it clear just what it intends to accomplish.
“They seek to outlaw a huge range of reproductive services,” said McLetchie, who wants the court to prevent the petition from being placed on the ballot. “Under the petition, fetuses could sue and be sued. What they are proposing is so radical and would clog up the courts.”
The petition could even ban birth control pills and emergency contraception, she said.
Besides the legal challenge, the petition has a lot of other hurdles to overcome.
Nevada voters in 1990 passed a referendum that put the Roe v. Wade decision into state law. This law cannot be changed without a vote of the people.
For the petition to make the ballot, Ziser’s Personhood Nevada group needs to collect 97,002 valid signature from registered voters by Aug. 4.
Since the petition proposes changing the state constitution, voters would have to approve it in both the 2010 and 2012 general elections before it could become state law.
And even it did pass, it probably could not go into effect until the federal Roe v. Wade decision was overturned, Legislative Counsel Brenda Erdoes said. That would require action by the U.S. Supreme Court itself.
Recent polls show 70 percent to 75 percent of respondents support women’s right to choose to have an abortion, according to Elisa Maser, the legislative lobbyist for Planned Parenthood in Nevada.
PersonhoodUSA co-founder Keith Mason said last month that his Christian anti-abortion group is trying in 30 states to pass laws or constitutional amendments that define all human beings as persons from the moment of biological development.
He said 50 million abortions have occurred in the United States since Roe v. Wade.
Last year Colorado voters rejected a Personhood amendment by a vote of 73 percent to 27 percent.
The “personhood” language is significant to supporters because it was used in the majority opinion written by U.S. Justice Harry Blackmun in the Roe v. Wade decision.
Blackmun said if “personhood” could be established for a fetus, then a “fetus’ right to life would be guaranteed” by the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Some legal scholars, however, challenge what Blackmun intended by his statement, saying he was being ironic.
Contact Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel at firstname.lastname@example.org or 775-687-3901.