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September 1, 2014

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Judge: ‘Personhood’ abortion petition too general for November ballot

CARSON CITY -- A district judge ruled today that the "personhood" petition, which sought to override Nevada's abortion laws, not be circulated or placed on the November ballot because it's "too general in nature."

District Judge James Russell ruled that the initiative's language was too general and the voters would not understand the impact. "There is no way anybody can really understand the effect," the judge said after 75 minutes of arguments.

The initiative sought to amend the state constitution by defining a person and extending due process rights to "everyone possessing a human genome" from before birth to death. "In the great state of Nevada, the term 'person' applies to every human being," the initiative states.

Olaf Vancura of Personhood Nevada, which is pushing the abortion amendment, said the ruling by Russell would be appealed to the Nevada Supreme Court.

Personhood Nevada sought to gather 97,200 signatures of voters to place the question on the ballot.

Lee Rowland, an attorney for the ACLU, told the judge the proposed amendment is too vague and does not contain the words "abortion" "birth control" or "fertilization." If enacted, she argued it would change thousands of laws in Nevada.

Michael Brooks, a Las Vegas lawyer representing Personhood Nevada, said the amendment is about abortion but he argued it is also to protect the rights of the disabled and elderly. "Human beings are entitled to protection," he said.

Brooks said that once the constitutional amendment was approved twice by the voters, there would be court cases to define what would be permitted. This proposed amendment, Brooks said, has "the broader purpose of civil rights. We're trying to protect the unborn."

Attached to the amendment is a description of the intended effects. It says, "This amendment codifies the inalienable right to life for everyone, young or old, healthy or ill, conscious or unconscious, born or unborn. It assures protection and dignity to our children, our infirm and our seniors."

The ACLU filed suit last November to prevent the initiative from going forward.

Russell agreed with Rowland that the petition was invalid and should not be placed on the ballot

The judge said he is not taking a position on the subject of the initiative but only whether it meets the test of the law. This proposal, said Russell, "has complex implications."

He gave Rowland seven days to draw up an order for him to sign.

At the beginning of the oral arguments, the judge said this issue would probably go to the Supreme Court and he wanted as complete a record as possible.

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