Pro-life group can now circulate petition to outlaw abortion

CARSON CITY — After major editing by a judge, a Nevada Pro-life Coalition petition to outlaw abortion was allowed to be circulated Monday.

Carson City District Judge James Wilson rewrote language in the 200-word description of the initiative petition to amend the state constitution. His editing could cause some voters to think twice about signing.

Wilson inserted language that states passage of the petition would affect women’s right to use the pill for birth control and would prevent abortions in cases of rape, incest or even when a woman’s health is jeopardized by a pregnancy.

He also stated in the petition’s new description that passage would affect stem cell research, in vitro fertilization and the treatment of ectopic pregnancies.

Petition descriptions are important because most people do not read the entire text before deciding whether to sign them.

Chet Gallagher, one of the coalition’s leaders, hailed the decision, although he disagreed with Wilson’s conclusions.

Two years ago, a similar petition was kept off the ballot in part because it violated a rule that it must apply only to a single subject.

Gallagher was pleased his petition had cleared that hurdle.

"If people really want surgical and chemical abortion to end, they will have to help us," he said. "We are Christians who are partnered with God. If we will do our part, then he will do his part."

Gallagher said his group probably will start circulating the petition early next year.

The group needs to gather 72,352 valid registered voter signatures by June 19. To amend the state constitution, voters would have to approve the petition in both the 2012 and the 2014 general elections.

Gallagher disagreed with Wilson’s view that the petition would affect common birth control methods, saying the state Legislature would have to decide whether any birth control method is prohibited.

Language in a similar petition by Personhood Nevada, another anti-abortion religious group, will be considered by the judge on Wednesday.

Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union have charged that the language in both petitions is vague and misleading. They have asked the judge to change the petitions so that people can understand their full meaning.

Gallagher campaigned two years ago in Nevada for another Personhood petition, but he said the current initiatives are separate petitions by different organizations. If a judge allows both petitions to go forward, the groups could decide to circulate just one of them, he said.

Opponents were pleased that Wilson made changes to explain the full effects of the anti-abortion petition, but they were disappointed that the petition could be circulated.

"Nevadans deserve to know that this initiative seeks to outlaw women’s health services like abortion, the birth control pill and treatment for complicated pregnancies," said Elsa Cafferata, president of Nevada Advocates for Planned Parenthood Affiliates. "Nevadans do not support interfering in women’s personal and private decision making."

Cafferata said Planned Parenthood and the ACLU will discuss whether to appeal Wilson’s ruling to the state Supreme Court. They also could wait and see whether the Pro-life Coalition gathers the required signatures.

"We have a lot of work to do to make sure people know what they would be voting on," she said. "People should know what it entails before they sign it."

Dane Claussen, executive director of the ACLU of Nevada, said the original petition language would have "tricked voters."

"We’re relieved that the court refused to allow proponents to deceive voters in this manner," Claussen said.

Cafferata noted that 21 years ago, on a nearly 2-1 vote, Nevadans passed a referendum that put into state law the Roe v. Wade U.S. Supreme Court decision permitting abortion.

And in the November election in Mississippi, which is considered a more conservative state than Nevada, voters rejected by 16 percentage points a Personhood anti-abortion petition.

Gallagher, a former Las Vegas police officer, said that he worked on the Mississippi campaign and that the ACLU and Planned Parenthood spent more than $1 million distorting what the petition would do.

"The bottom line is people who should have known better voted against the stopping of killing lives in Mississippi," he said.

Gallagher said the Pro-life Coalition failed to get expert testimony to counter the testimony of opponents’ experts at the Dec. 13 hearing before Wilson.

"Birth control is not going to end," he said. "Doctors are not going to be arrested if they end the life of a baby to save the life of the mother. You would have to legislate that."

But he said that passage would prevent abortions in cases of rape or incest. Aborting a baby should not be allowed just because of the sins of its father, he added.

Gallagher was fired as a police officer on duty in 1989 after he showed up at an abortion clinic protest that his supervisors had told him not to attend. He said he does not regret his decision because he is a Christian who believes abortion is murder.

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

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