CARSON CITY — Four Nevada groups that oppose abortion announced today that they cannot support the proposed Personhood constitutional amendment because there is no guarantee that it would actually stop abortion.
“We don’t have any idea what the Personhood petition will mean,” said Janine Hansen, president of Nevada Eagle Forum and long one of the state’s leading anti-abortion advocates. “When things are vague, courts decide what they mean.”
The move drew immediate condemnation by Keith Mason, the national co-founder of PersonhoodUSA, who said Hansen, Nevada Families, the Independent American Party and Nevada Life were siding with known abortion rights organizations Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union, which have filed a lawsuit challenging the Personhood petition.
“I wouldn’t want my name next to Planned Parenthood and the ACLU,” Mason said.
PersonhoodUSA is a Christian-based group that is trying to put amendments and laws into effect in 32 states that they hope will overturn the U.S. Supreme Court decision allowing abortion.
The schism between anti-abortion groups dooms the Personhood amendment in the state, according to one political expert.
“This is an issue that seems to be coming out of 1980s politics,” said David Damore, political science professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. “It seems out of step with what people are concerned about today.”
Damore said the best guess he has seen is that only 10 percent to 15 percent of Nevadans are social conservatives who would be drawn to the abortion issue today.
The Nevada Legislature in June passed a law setting up domestic partnerships between same- and opposite-sex couples, who now have the same rights as married couples. Such legislation would not have been approved in a social conservative state, he said.
Personhood Nevada launched the petition drive in October to place before voters next year a constitutional amendment that its supporters say would outlaw all abortions, including in cases of rape or incest. It also would prohibit birth control that induces abortions, the group said.
But the Personhood amendment does not mention the words abortion or birth control. Instead, it states that a “person” is a human being from the moment of biological development and persons are entitled to civil rights protections under the Constitution.
To become part of the state constitution, Personhood supporters need to collect 97,002 valid signatures on petitions by Aug. 4. Voters then would have to approve the plan in both the 2010 and 2012 elections before it would become part of the state constitution.
Planned Parenthood and the ACLU of Nevada filed litigation Thursday in Carson City District Court that challenges the language in the petition as being vague and deceptive.
ACLU lawyers said people who are asked to sign the petition should at least know what it means.
Hansen, who first testified against abortion in the Nevada Legislature in 1971, reiterated that concern today.
She said a state constitutional amendment cannot overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision allowing abortion, and the amendment would give courts more power to decide all matters relating to abortion, such as parental notification and informed consent.
“We believe that the courts are the greatest threat to the unalienable right to life of the unborn,” Hansen said. “Roe versus Wade has brought about the wholesale killing of the innocent unborn. We oppose abortion and support the right to life of the unborn.”
Mason said his organization will welcome Hansen and others back when they decide they want to continue the fight against abortion.
In the meantime, he said, he will condemn them.
“They are going against the grain of the majority of the pro-life movement in America,” he said. “They have joined forces with Planned Parenthood and the ACLU.”
In a phone interview, Mason said his organization intends to rely on donations and volunteers, including church groups, to gather enough signatures to put the Personhood petition before voters.
He said the organization needed to spend only $60,000 to gather enough signatures to put a similar proposal before Colorado voters last November.
But two years ago, every initiative petition drive in Nevada was repeatedly challenged by opponents in court. Sponsors complained that they needed at least $1 million to fight challenges and pay solicitors to secure signatures on petitions in the state.
In Colorado, voters rejected the Personhood proposal 73 percent to 27 percent.
Contact reporter Ed Vogel at firstname.lastname@example.org or 775-687-3901.