Nev. Judge Rewrites Misleading Language in Proposed 'Personhood' Initiative

December 20, 2011 — Nevada District Judge James Wilson on Monday rewrote a proposed "personhood" ballot initiative to make it clear that the measure would restrict access to reproductive health services other than abortion, the Huffington Post reports. Wilson ruled that the Nevada Prolife Coalition's proposal did not include an adequate "description of effect" -- a statement that is required under Nevada law to inform voters of the measure's ramifications.

The initiative would amend the state constitution to protect "the unalienable right to life of every prenatal person" at all stages of biological development. The American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada and Planned Parenthood in October filed a lawsuit against the measure, arguing that it misled voters by not fully listing its effects (Bassett, Huffington Post, 12/19).

Wilson denied the plaintiffs' request to declare the initiative illegal, stating in his ruling that the measure is valid because it deals with a single subject (Silva, AP/San Jose Mercury News, 12/19). After the addition of Wilson's rewrites, NPC can start gathering the 75,352 signatures of registered voters that are required to place the measure on the November 2012 ballot. The group has until June 19 to submit the signatures to the Nevada secretary of state (Ryan, Las Vegas Sun, 12/19).

Details of Revisions

In his decision, Wilson said that the initiative's opponents had proven that it would limit women's access to health care services other than abortion. Wilson revised the initiative to clarify that the measure "will impact some rights Nevada women currently have to utilize some forms of birth control, including the 'pill'; and to access certain fertility treatments such as in vitro fertilization." The revision also states that the measure "will affect embryonic stem cell research, which offers potential for treating diseases such as diabetes, Parkinson's disease, heart disease and others" (Baker, "Healthwatch," The Hill, 12/19).

Wilson also clarified the extent of the measure's restrictions on abortion. He added language stating that the "initiative would protect a prenatal person regardless of whether or not the prenatal person would live, grow or develop in the womb or survive birth," as well as "prevent all abortions even in the case of rape, incest or serious threats to the woman's health or life, or when a woman is suffering from a miscarriage, or as an emergency treatment for an ectopic pregnancy" (Huffington Post, 12/20).


Proponents of the initiative called the ruling a victory in that they will be allowed to move forward with the signature effort. However, they threatened to appeal the language revisions. NPC Director Chet Gallagher said that "it's just not true" that the measure would restrict birth control or IVF (AP/San Jose Mercury News, 12/19).

Reproductive-rights advocates were pleased that Wilson rewrote the description of effect. Elisa Cafferata, president and CEO of Nevada Advocates for Planned Parenthood Affiliates, said, "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, just to name a few" (Huffington Post, 12/20). Although Wilson did not rule that the measure is illegal, its opponents' "main concern has always been that it was intentionally misleading," Cafferata added (AP/San Jose Mercury News, 12/19).