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"Personhood Nevada" Reminds Us Why the Ballot Box is No Place for Guessing Games

Diana Kasdan,
Reproductive Freedom Project
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April 6, 2010

Today the Nevada Supreme Court heard arguments in Personhood Nevada v. Bristol, a case reviewing the legality of a proposed ballot initiative aimed at interfering with private health care decisions. In January, a lower court judge declared the "Personhood Nevada" petition — an initiative that seeks to ban a range of reproductive health services in the state — invalid, vague and misleading. The lower court also prevented the initiative from being placed on the next election ballot. Proponents of the initiative appealed that ruling, bringing us to today's hearing before a full panel of the Nevada Supreme Court.

Not surprisingly, listening to proponents' arguments to the Court was like reading the initiative itself — confusing. In response to questions from the judges asking for a clear explanation of the single or primary "purpose" of the initiative, proponents' attorney kept referring to the "operative eight words" of the initiative: "the term 'person' applies to every 'human being,'" but never clearly explained how, under this initiative, incorporating the phrase "human being" would expand the meaning of "person," or how adding those eight words to the Nevada Constitution would actually change Nevada law. Arguing on behalf of the three plaintiffs who brought the challenge — an individual woman, a pharmacist and an obstetrician-gynecologist — Lee Rowland from the ACLU of Nevada asked the Nevada Supreme Court to affirm the lower court's ruling that the initiative is misleading and fails to give voters a clear explanation of its purpose, the changes it proposes, and its intended consequences.

We are hopeful that, like the lower court, the Nevada Supreme Court will issue a decision that protects voters from being left in the dark at the ballot box. This case has been moving at a quick pace and we expect a decision from the Court soon. We'll keep you posted.

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