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Carson judge rules against personhood petition seeking to define life as starting at conception


By Sean Whaley, Nevada News Bureau: A Carson City district judge today ruled an initiative petition to amend the state constitution to define human life as beginning at conception was too vague and so could not be circulated to qualify for the November 2012 ballot.

Carson City District Judge James Wilson ruled from the bench after an hour of argument from attorneys representing Personhood Nevada and the American Civil Liberties Union, which challenged the proposal in court.

“It looks to me like this is unnecessarily broad,” Wilson said at one point in the hearing. He also said it was vague and did not clearly state what its intent was. The description of effect required for such ballot measures was also unclear and could not be rehabilitated, he said in his ruling.

Olaf Vancura and Candy Best with Personhood Nevada talk about their proposed initiative petition before a court hearing today. / Photo: Nevada News Bureau.

Attorney Gary Kreep, with the United States Justice Foundation based in California, represented Personhood Nevada. He said the proposal to amend the Nevada constitution to define a person as starting at “biological development” was clear and did not violate the requirement that ballot proposals deal with a single subject.

He acknowledged that the effects of the proposed change to the constitution to include the phrase “the term ‘person’ includes every human being” could be numerous, however, as the definition was applied to various areas of state law.

But Kreep said the ramifications of the proposal would become clear to voters as the measure was debated before election day.

ACLU attorney Alexa Kolbi-Molinas, representing Nevada voters opposed to the proposed constitutional amendment, argued that registered voters would not have a clear understanding of what the effect of the proposal would be if asked to sign the petition to place the measure on the ballot.

Opponents of the proposal were happy with Wilson’s ruling.

“Obviously we’re pleased that the court agreed with us that it’s important that voters fully understand the sweeping impacts that these initiatives would have and we’re pleased to see that this one cannot go forward,” said Elisa Cafferata, president and CEO of Nevada Advocates for Planned Parenthood Affiliates.

Kreep said after the hearing the group will have to assess whether to appeal the decision to the Nevada Supreme Court. The Personhood group lost on similar grounds in 2010 when it tried to circulate a similar petition to Nevada voters.

Personhood Nevada could potentially file a revised initiative petition with the secretary of state’s office, but then the legal review process would begin all over again.

“The abortion providers, according to Congressional testimony by former employees, make millions and hundreds of millions of dollars off of selling body parts,” Kreep said following Wilson’s ruling. “They get hundreds of millions of dollars in state aid. And it feeds the attorneys who litigate for them to keep the death machine going.”

Wilson on Monday ruled that a separate proposed constitutional amendment submitted by the Nevada Prolife Coalition to outlaw abortion did not violate a rule for ballot measures requiring them to address only a single subject and he allowed the petition to go forward.

Cafferata said opponents are still evaluating whether to appeal that decision to the Nevada Supreme Court.

Groups seeking to place a constitutional amendment on the 2012 ballot would need to collect 72,352 valid signatures by June 19. The measure would have to be approved by voters twice, in 2012 and again in 2014, to take effect.

Before the hearing, Olaf Vancura, a member of the Board of Directors of Personhood Nevada, said the proposed amendment is simple: “The sole purpose of this initiative is to clarify the definition of what a person is in the state of Nevada. And that’s why it is a simple seven words, ‘the term person includes every human being.’ ”

The Personhood effort is a national one, with measures being sought for placement on the ballot in several states. One test of the measure came in Mississippi in November, where it was rejected by voters.

Audio clips:

Elisa Cafferata, president and CEO of Nevada Advocates for Planned Parenthood Affiliates, says opponents of the Personhood petition are pleased with the ruling:

122111Cafferata :16 cannot go forward.”

Olaf Vancura, a member of the Board of Directors of Personhood Nevada, says the proposals is simple:

122111Vancura :12 every human being.”

Attorney Gary Kreep, representing Personhood Nevada, says abortion supporters make millions on the practice:

122111Kreep :15 death machine going.”

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