A Nevada state judge today rewrote a misleading ballot initiative to make clear it is designed to ban all abortions and other vital women’s health services by granting legal protections to fertilized eggs, according to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Nevada and Nevada Advocates for Planned Parenthood Affiliates. The judge found that the initiative was originally worded in such vague and misleading terms that it failed to make clear the far-reaching effects it would have on Nevada law.
The decision comes less than two months after voters in Mississippi rejected a similar “egg-as-person” initiative because of the widespread ramifications it would have on the life and health of women and families throughout the state. A similar initiative was also rejected in Colorado in 2008.
The Nevada ballot initiative was originally proposed by the Nevada Prolife Coalition. The ACLU of Nevada and Planned Parenthood Federation of America challenged the initiative and another similar measure on behalf of a group of registered Nevada voters.
District Judge James E. Wilson found that the initiative by ProLife Nevada did not include an adequate description of the implications of effects in “various areas including common birth control methods, the treatment of ectopic pregnancy, in vitro fertilization treatment, and stem cell research.”
“ProLife’s description,” stated Judge Wilson, “did not include any information regarding these effects.”
The State of Nevada has an important interest in “preventing the public from being confronted with confusing or misleading initiatives” and “promoting informed decisions and in preventing the enactment of unpopular provisions by attaching them to more attractive proposals or concealing them in lengthy, complex initiatives (i.e., “logrolling).”
To that point, Judge Wilson found that the description of effect–a “significant tool to help ‘prevent voter confusion and promote informed decisions’”–did not meet the test of being “straightforward, succinct, and non-argumentative.”
In other words, ProLife Nevada’s wording did not provide clear indications of the true intent of the so-called personhood initiative.
Instead of the original, Judge Wilson ordered ProLife Nevada to substitute the following text:
“All persons are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights including the right to life. This initiative proposes to add a new section to the Nevada Constitution to protect a prenatal person’s right to life. The new section would make it unlawful to intentionally kill a prenatal person by any means. The term “prenatal person” includes every human being form the moment an egg is fertilized by a sperm and at all stages of development from that time until birth. 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; 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. The initiative will impact some rights Nevada women currently have to access certain fertility treatments such as in vitro fertilization. The initiative 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 initiative will affect embryonic stem cell research, which offers potential for treating diseases such as diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, heart disease, and others.”
Advocates applauded the decision. “This misleading initiative could have tricked voters into supporting a measure that would have banned a range of vital health services,” said Dane S. Claussen, executive director of the ACLU of Nevada. “We’re relieved that the court refused to allow proponents to deceive voters in this manner.”
“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,” said Elisa Cafferata, president & CEO of Nevada Advocates for Planned Parenthood Affiliates.
“Nearly 20 years ago Nevada voters affirmed the tenets of Roe vs. Wade and a woman’s right to privacy. Nevadans do not support interfering in women’s personal and private decision making.”
“The proponents of this initiative were trying to hide the ball,” said Alexa Kolbi-Molinas, staff attorney with the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project. “They know that, across the country, voters have repeatedly rejected measures that would interfere with a woman’s ability to make her own health care decisions.”
Despite their defeats, supporters of initiatives to give fertilized eggs more rights than the women in whose bodies they reside have been moving forward with similar efforts in various states, including Wisconsin and a proposed second attempt in Colorado.
Follow Jodi Jacobson on Twitter: @jljacobson