Mississippi setback doesn't deter Personhood Nevada push to outlaw abortions

CARSON CITY -- The Personhood Nevada organization will push ahead with its initiative petition drive to outlaw abortion despite a crushing defeat Tuesday of a similar initiative in Mississippi.

"We are disappointed with what happened in Mississippi, but we are moving forward with Personhood in Nevada," said Candy Best, spokeswoman for the state branch of the nationwide, religious-based organization that wants to end legal abortions. "They threw everything but the kitchen sink at us in Mississippi. Fear causes people to hesitate in doing the right thing."

Best on Wednesday blamed misleading reports by the "liberal national media" for the defeat of the Mississippi ballot question.

But Mississippi is more conservative politically than Nevada, and the defeat there cannot bode well for the petition's chances in the Silver State. Republicans hold a 9 percentage point advantage in registered voters in Mississippi, while Democrats hold a 5 percentage point lead in Nevada.

Nevada voters approved putting abortion rights into state law by an almost 2-to-1 margin in 1990.

Nevada Advocates for Planned Parenthood leader Elisa Cafferata said the Mississippi vote "sends a strong signal that far-reaching so-called 'personhood' measures are out of touch with the vast majority of Americans."

Despite polls showing the initiative would pass in Mississippi, voters there defeated the ballot question 58 percent to 42 percent.

Personhood advocates tried two years ago to put a similar initiative to amend the state constitution before Nevada voters but were rebuffed when Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union successfully challenged the language in their petition as vague and misleading.

This fall, Personhood Nevada and the Nevada Prolife Coalition filed separate petitions with the secretary of state that call for voters to approve a constitutional amendment banning abortion. Planned Parenthood and the ACLU again challenged the anti-abortion petition language in District Court in Carson City.

District Judge James Wilson has scheduled a Dec. 13 hearing on the Prolife Coalition petition. He has not set a hearing date on the Personhood petition.

Backers of these petitions risk having all their signatures thrown out if they start collecting signatures before Wilson makes his decision. If he changes even one word, any signatures they have already collected will be thrown out.

"The backers of these initiatives are coming from out of state to try to take away Nevadans' access to health care, but they are being misleading about their intentions," said Dane Claussen, executive director of the ACLU of Nevada. "We believe Nevada voters have a right to know what they are being asked to vote on."

Critics contend voter approval of the Personhood petition would prevent women from using the morning-after pill. There is agreement by all parties that it would prohibit abortions in the case of rape or incest.

But the petition language does not specify exactly what would be prohibited.

It states the "inalienable rights of all persons from the beginning of biological development until death" is a state obligation to protect. And it says the protection applies regardless of whether the person is "young or old, healthy or ill, conscious or unconscious, born or unborn" and affirms the "personhood of preborn children."

The word "personhood" is important because in the Roe v. Wade ruling, which authorized abortion rights, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun said if personhood could be established for a fetus, then the fetus' right to life would be guaranteed by the Constitution.

To get the petition on the November 2012 ballot, backers need to collect 72,352 signatures by June 19. Voters must approve the question both in 2012 and again in 2014 to amend the state constitution.

Besides Tuesday's defeat in Mississippi, Colorado voters twice have rejected Personhood ballot questions. No state has approved the question.

Contact Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel at evogel@ reviewjournal.com or 775-687-3900.