Judge rules abortion petition can’t be circulated

CARSON CITY — An anti-abortion petition is so vague that it cannot be circulated among voters, a judge ruled Wednesday.

District Judge James Wilson granted an injunction that prevents Personhood Nevada from circulating its petition.

The decision came after a 45-minute hearing during which Personhood lawyer Gary Kreep repeatedly failed to state the purpose of the petition.

At one point, he said it would prevent “discrimination against the unborn” and at another noted it might stop rationing of health care for senior citizens that could occur under “Obamacare.” He added he would have to “speculate” on the petition’s possible effects.

Kreep’s coy responses to Wilson did not help his cause. The judge listened only briefly to arguments by American Civil Liberties Union lawyer Alexa Kolbi-Molinas before granting the injunction she and Planned Parenthood had sought.

Wilson said state law requires the purpose of a petition must be clear so that voters understand what they are signing.

“To me it is not clear,” said Wilson, who maintained a calm demeanor despite his frustration in getting answers from Kreep. “It is not capable of being rehabilitated through rewriting.”

On Monday, Wilson ruled that another anti-abortion petition, this one by the Nevada Pro-Life Coalition, could be circulated among voters. But he rewrote the petition’s 200-word description of effect and said that its approval might lead to a prohibition of common forms of birth control such as the pill. He also said passage would affect stem cell research, in vitro fertilization and the treatment of ectopic pregnancies, which can lead to the deaths of the fetus and the mother.

Kreep said Wednesday that Personhood Nevada leaders will decide whether to appeal Wilson’s decision to the Nevada Supreme Court.

Two years ago, another Carson City judge, James T. Russell, threw out a Personhood anti-abortion petition for similar reasons. The faith-based group appealed to the Supreme Court, but by the time the case was heard, the deadline for collecting signatures had passed.

To qualify for November’s election ballot, Personhood would have had to collect 72,352 valid signatures of registered voters by June 19. To amend the state constitution, voters would have to approve the petition in both the 2012 and the 2014 general elections.

After Wednesday’s ruling, Planned Parenthood representative Elisa Cafferata said Wilson understood the requirement that voters should know exactly what they would be voting to do.

“We are glad the Nevada court sees the sweeping impacts these groups are trying to do,” she said.

Cafferata works for the Reno-based Nevada Advocates for Planned Parenthood Affiliates. Planned Parenthood is a national organization that advises women on their reproductive choices.

Before the hearing, Personhood spokeswoman Candy Duncan, a Las Vegas minister, contended that the organization’s petition was a simple seven-word statement: “The term ‘person’ includes every human being.” But in response to reporters’ questions, she would not say that they were trying to end abortion.

In the description of effect, Personhood said that voter approval would eliminate “discrimination against all human beings” and would affirm the “personhood of pre-born children.”

The use of the word “personhood” is critical because it was used by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun in the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion.

Blackmun said that if “personhood” could be established for a fetus, then “the fetus’ right to life would be guaranteed” by the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

In the November election, Mississippi voters overwhelming rejected a similar Personhood petition to outlaw abortion. Colorado voters also have rejected Personhood petitions.

While not candid in the courtroom, Kreep said outside the courtroom that the abortion industry is making “millions and hundreds of millions selling body parts.”

The money also “feeds the attorneys to keep the death machine going,” he said.

Kreep, executive director of the United States Justice Foundation, said he spoke “about the petition” in the courtroom, but about abortion outside of it.

He said his job was to represent his client, Personhood Nevada, and that his client had written the petition that Wilson found so vague.

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

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