The American Civil Liberties Union and Planned Parenthood Federation of America are backing six Nevada voters in a lawsuit filed Thursday in state court in Carson City seeking to block the initiative from the November 2012 ballot.
The measure backed by the group Personhood Nevada is just seven words: “The term ‘person’ includes every human being.”
The following 195-word initiative description would invoke protections for the “fundamental right to live” for “preborn children” from “the beginning of biological development until death.”
Anna Maria Serra-Radford, a self-described pro-life advocate from Boulder City who heads the political action group leading the initiative drive, said she expected the lawsuit and anticipated arguments that the measure is unconstitutionally misleading, vague and overbroad.
“The language they don’t want is that life begins at conception,” Serra-Radford told The Associated Press. “Let the people decide if they believe the state of Nevada should protect life and the quality of life from beginning to end. If it turns out the people of Nevada don’t agree, then let them say so. Not the ACLU, not the abortion providers.”
Elisa Cafferata, president and chief executive of Nevada Advocates for Planned Parenthood Affiliates in Reno, said the effect of the measure would be far broader than voters would know.
“Our concern with it, and one of the reasons for the lawsuit, is that it could potentially be so much more than abortion,” Cafferata said. “If it’s about abortion why are they not being clear about that?”
The lawsuit was filed by attorney Matthew Griffin of Reno on behalf of plaintiffs Chelsea Chen, Mindy Hsu, Christina Ann Lydon, Wesley Richard Lydon, Keith Reisinger and Amy Gallacher. It names Personhood Nevada and the state’s top election official, Nevada Secretary of State Ross Miller, as defendants.
The lawsuit echoes a challenge that blocked a similarly framed initiative sponsored by the same organization from reaching the 2010 ballot.
The main differences between the two are that the 2010 measure began with 14 words: “In the great state of Nevada, the term ‘person’ applies to every human being.”
“All proponents have done is remove the introductory clause and substituted the word ‘includes’ for ‘applies to,” Griffin wrote in the new lawsuit.
He said both proposed initiatives fail to inform voters they’d lose “existing rights to a range of constitutionally protected and legal medical services” including abortion, contraception and treatment for problem pregnancies. The lawsuit says the measure might also prohibit embryonic stem cell research.
“The initiatives are designed to undermine a woman’s access to basic health services,” said Allen Lichtenstein, Las Vegas-based general counsel for the ACLU of Nevada. “They also violate the basic requirement of the initiative process, not to mislead the voter.”
Lichtenstein called the initiatives “so confusing that voters may not realize they are being asked to ban vital health services.”
Carson City District Judge James Todd Russell ruled in January 2010 that the initiative proposed two years ago was “too general and vague in nature”; that it would affect constitutional rights to “life, due process, equal protection, and search and seizure”; and that it could reshape state criminal law and have “many social implications.”
But Serra-Radford, the proponent of the new initiative, noted the Nevada Supreme Court refused to settle the question by declining to overturn or affirm Russell’s decision.
“We’ve been down this road before,” she said Friday, “and here we go again.”