Planned Parenthood challenges proposals to end abortion in Nevada

CARSON CITY — An attorney for Planned Parenthood has filed separate legal challenges against two proposed constitutional amendments designed ultimately to end abortion.

Reno lawyer Matt Griffin said the Personhood Nevada and the Nevada Prolife Coalition petitions to amend the state constitution are vague, misleading and fail to tell voters their full intentions.

Griffin said Tuesday that the petitions do not specify the taking of the morning-after pill would be prohibited.

The Personhood petition is part of a national movement to overturn the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Roe v. Wade, that gave women the right to choose an abortion to terminate a pregnancy. Two years ago, a similar petition circulated by the largely Christian organization was thrown out both in Carson City District Court and the Nevada Supreme Court.

"Their point is to create litigation and get it to the U.S. Supreme Court to throw out abortion," Griffin said. "They are using the Nevada initiative process as a pawn in a national scheme."

The petitions were filed with the secretary of state, a step supporters must take before collecting signatures. To amend the state constitution, backers must collect at least 72,352 signatures for their petitions by June 19, and voters must approve them twice in general elections in 2012 and 2014.

By law, opponents are entitled to challenge the 200-word "descriptions of effect" of any petition.

If backers of the petitions collect signatures before court challenges are settled, they risk having all signatures voided — which happened with Personhood last year.

Keith Mason, the national chairman for Personhood USA, said the organization intends to keep refiling petitions in Nevada and in other states until voters have a chance to make their opinions known.

He said he is confident that voters in Mississippi in November and in as many as 10 states in 2012 will pass their constitutional amendments to stop abortion.

"We are not quitting," he said. "Public sentiment is on our side. These are human beings whose lives should be saved. Their suing us encourages us even more."

But a Time magazine poll in June found 64 percent of 1,001 respondents either strongly support or support women’s right to abortion.

A Gallup poll in May found 72 percent of 1,018 respondents always favor or sometimes favor abortion rights. That same month, Gallup found most Americans by a small margin considered themselves "pro life," but a few days later, a similar poll found that most, again by a small margin, said they were "pro choice."

Nonetheless, Mason said the makeup of the U.S. Supreme Court has changed since Roe v. Wade, and he is confident that justices now would outlaw abortion. Even if that did not occur, Mason said, the court should decide abortion is a states’ rights issue.

There are disagreements among anti-abortion physicians on whether the morning-after pill takes human lives, but Mason said there is no disagreement that abortion to terminate a pregnancy caused by rape would be prohibited by his group’s petition.

"If it does kill a baby, then it is prohibited," Mason said. "Why should we give an execution sentence to a baby whose father is a rapist?"

The Personhood petition states that it is the state obligation to protect the "inalienable rights of all persons from the beginning of biological development until death." And it specifies 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."

But the petition never mentions the word abortion or states succinctly that its intention is to outlaw abortion.

The Nevada Prolife Coalition is more clear in its intentions. It states the intentional taking of a prenatal person’s life shall never be allowed in the state and defines "prenatal persons" as human beings beginning at "all states of biological development before birth."

"Guaranteeing personhood for the prenatal human being has the effect of making illegal intentional acts which kill such persons, including elective, surgical and/or chemical abortion and fetal homicide," it states.

Michael Peters, a Las Vegas lawyer and secretary of the Nevada Prolife Coalition, did not return a call for comment.

Candy Best, a leader of Personhood Nevada, said she does not know why two anti-abortion petitions have been submitted, but she would be happy if either won voter approval. If two petitions on the same subject appear on an election ballot, then the one that passes with the most votes would amend the constitution.

"We were always going to submit our petition," she said. "We have nothing to do with theirs."

In papers filed with the secretary of state, the Prolife Coalition said its purpose is to "exalt Jesus Christ as Lord" and to use the amendment process "to end the shedding of innocent blood" through intentional abortions.

Both petitions deliberately mention the word "personhood" because in the Roe v. Wade decision, then-Justice Harry Blackmum said if "personhood" could be established for a fetus, then the fetus’ "right to life would be guaranteed" by the U.S. Constitution.

Carson City District Court hearings on the challenges have not yet been scheduled.

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

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