‘Personhood’ petition overturned

Nevada District Judge James Russell invalidated an initiative petition on grounds that there is no way voters will be able to know what the petition, if enacted, would do.

The “personhood” initiative reads, in its entirety: “In the great state of Nevada, the term ‘person’ applies to every human being.”

The theory behind the measure originated with a phrase in Roe v. Wade, the 1972 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that restored legal abortion. It said that if fetal “personhood” could be established, then “the fetus’ right to life would then be guaranteed specifically by the [Fourteenth] Amendment.”

But while supporters of the initiative petition have said it has something to do with abortion, those on both sides of the abortion issue opposed the initiative because it was so vague that they regarded it as a time bomb of unintended consequences (“More lawmaking by ballot,” Oct. 26, 2009). In addition, there were fears it would have unknown consequences for living wills, birth control, and an array of other issues. At the court hearing in Carson City, even one of the supporters of the initiative seemed to concede that, saying, “This is about far more than abortion.”

Lee Rowland of the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada, which filed the appeal on behalf of a Nevada obstetrician-gynecologist, said, “This initiative could have impacted literally thousands of laws, inviting lawyers and the courts to reinterpret every Nevada law and regulation that contains the word ‘person’ all at the expense of Nevada taxpayers.”

After the court hearing, initiative backer Olaf Vancura said he would appeal the ruling to the Nevada Supreme Court instead of rewriting and refiling a new petition because there was no time for another petition. That was taken by critics of the petition to mean its supporters underestimated the difficulty of gathering signatures and have given up on the petition, since there is still plenty of time to circulate another petition while a court appeal will eat up time and probably prevent a new petition from succeeding.