Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2011 | 10:35 p.m.
CARSON CITY — A district judge says he will rule by the end of the week on the legality of an initiative petition seeking to ban abortions in Nevada.
District Judge James Wilson heard nearly two hours of arguments Tuesday whether supporters of the petition can go forward to gather signatures.
This is only the first step in a long process to decide whether Nevadans will eventually vote to amend the state constitution on the controversial right-to-life issue.
Backers of Nevada Pro Life must first gather 72,352 signatures to qualify the issue for the next election. And there must be at least 18,088 in each of the four congressional districts. The signatures must be turned in by Aug. 8 for the petition to appear on the election ballot.
If it passes next year, it would have to be approved again by the voters at the 2014 election.
And there are expected to be many court challenges in the interim.
Wilson appeared to side with opponents of the petition whose lawyer argued the initiative was invalid because it did not adequately inform the voters of effects.
Wilson said there must be sufficient information to tell the public what the petition is about. “It requires descriptions of the effects,” he said.
The petition says, “The intentional taking of a prenatal person’s life shall never been allowed in this state. For the purpose of this section only, the term ‘prenatal person’ includes every human being at all stages of biological development before birth.”
The suit to stop the petition from being circulated was filed by six Nevadans who are represented by the American Civil Liberties Union.
Alexa Kolbi Molinas, attorney for the union, told the judge the petition violates the law that there can be only one subject in an initiative that seeks to amend the Nevada Constitution and the language isn’t clear.
“They are rolling many issues into a simple initiative making a number of changes,” said Molinas.
She argued the initiative “does not spell out the consequences” if the petition is finally passed. For example, it outlaws birth control pills and could stop cell research that could offer treatment for such things as diabetes, Parkinson’s disease and heart disease.
But Michael Peters, attorney for the pro-life group, said the judge must confine himself to the language in the petition, whose sole goal is to protect prenatal life.
The opponents, Peters said “are totally off base and are going outside the four corners of the initiative.”
The petition would not outlaw birth control, he said. That would require a law if the petition is approved. “There cannot be any further ban on birth control without further litigation,” Peters said.
So far the pro life organization has not gathered any signatures.