Nevada Personhood Amendment (2012)

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The Nevada Personhood Amendment did not make November 2012 state ballot in Nevada as an initiated constitutional amendment. The measure would have recognized the personhood of the unborn from the earliest stages of life.[1]

Originally a version of the measure was proposed for the November 2010 ballot, however, on June 10 of that year, five days before the petition drive deadline, supporters announced they did not have sufficient signatures and would instead aim for the 2012 ballot.[2]

Despite 2 proposals for the 2012 ballot, only 1 effort went underway. That did not make the ballot either. Read about both proposals and the legal challenges below.

2012 attempts

Initially, two measures were proposed for the 2012 ballot, one by Personhood Nevada and another by Nevada Prolife. Both proposals were legally challenged in court, and both were struck down by a judge's ruling. However, both re-wrote ballot language and subsequently obtained permission to circulate. Read more about those legal challenges here. Here is a summary of what happened:

  • On January 9, 2012, the Nevada Prolife group re-filed their measure after a judge ordered it be rewritten. According to the new proposal and proponents, the measure would ensure that the "unalienable right to live of every prenatal person is protected."[3]
  • Planned Parenthood and the ACLU challenged that initiative petition, stating that it was vague and misleading.
  • Before the lawsuit could be heard, Nevada Prolife Coalition withdrew their petition, and re-filed their third version of the initiative during the week of February 7, 2012. According to reports, the measure stated that it sought to amend the Nevada Constitution. It also stated that the amendment would prohibit abortions in the case of rape or incest and would prohibit some fertility treatments.[4]
  • Both measures by Personhood Nevada and Nevada Prolife were subsequently approved for circulation after rewriting language. Then on March 20, 2012, Nevada Prolife withdrew their measure. The organization stated that instead of forging ahead with their initiative, they would place their support behind Personhood Nevada's initiative in order to strengthen support.[5]
  • There was then only one initiative effort circulating for petition signatures in order to obtain ballot access.[5]


  • One of the measures was supported and sponsored by Personhood Nevada. Originally the initiative was filed by Richard Ziser, a conservative activist in Las Vegas.[6][7] Personhood Nevada is an affiliate of Personhood USA, which is a national organization that sponsored ballot initiatives in several states for the 2010 ballot, such as the Colorado and Florida. In response a district judge's ruling to deny the amendment's circulation Personhood Nevada president Olaf Vancura said,"It's a civil rights initiative by and for the people. By the logic of First District Court Judge James Russell, the people of Nevada would never be allowed to bring forth a civil rights initiative. Such denial is unconstitutional. We're appealing to the Supreme Court in hopes that they will recognize the voters' rights in the State of Nevada."[8]
  • According to Personhood USA communications director Jennifer Mason, when commenting on the presidential race in 2012 and how it could impact the proposal: “We are not certain how sentiment against Obama would help us in 2012, but to us that isn’t a key factor. We persist with personhood because babies in the womb are treated as property, not as people, in the United States.”[9]


Opponents included Nevada Eagle Forum, the Independent American Party, Nevada Families and Nevada Life. In November 2009 the four groups released a statement in opposition to the proposed amendment. They said at the time that the measure was "so vague and general that it may not even apply to abortion at all." Additionally, they argued that the measure, if approved, would "harm the pro-life movement by giving pro-abortion courts more power to decide all matters relations to abortion."[10]

Eagle Forum, the national parent group of Nevada Eagle Forum, also publicly announced its opposition to the Nevada Personhood Amendment, as well as to the Florida Personhood Amendment (2010), the Missouri Personhood Amendment (2010) and the Montana Personhood Amendment. On Nov. 30, 2009, the Alton, Ill.-based pro-life group posted the following statement on its website[11]:

The ‘personhood’ initiative lost by a landslide of 73% to 27% in Colorado in 2008, and its unpopular coattails hurt good pro-life candidates there. This poorly designed initiative would not prevent a single abortion even it if became law, and its vague language would enable more mischief by judges.

Now its organizers, who provide little information about themselves or their funding, spread their disaster to key swing states like Florida, Missouri, Nevada and Montana. This hurtful effort misleads pro-lifers with the false hope that a referendum can overturn Roe v. Wade, when only the U.S. Supreme Court can do that. This enriches pro-abortion groups with a fundraising issue as they claim to preserve abortion by suing to stop this initiative, and they have already filed several lawsuits.

Florida's Catholic Bishops recently banned the collection of any signatures for this ill-advised initiative at churches there, and most pro-life groups also oppose this initiative. We encourage support of pro-life candidates, and oppose hurtful gimmicks like the personhood initiative.
  • Steven Ertelt, founder and editor of, a Christian anti-abortion news site, wrote in a December 21, 2010, article on that, "In order to defeat Obama and ultimately stop abortions, personhood amendments must be put aside in 2012 so the pro-life community can focus on the number one goal: installing a pro-life president who will put the nation in a position to legally protect unborn children. ... Without putting amendments aside and putting the focus on the 2012 elections, abortion on demand could remain in place for another 37 years."[12]

Legal challenges

Lawsuit against 2010 initiative

A lawsuit was filed on November 12, 2009 against the proposed amendment by the American Civil Liberties Union, Planned Parenthood and several individuals. According to the filed lawsuit, the petition and the description were "misleading" and did not include an explanation of the proposition's objective. Maggie McLetchie, a lawyer for the ACLU of Nevada, said, "They seek to outlaw a huge range of reproductive services. Under the petition, fetuses could sue and be sued. What they are proposing is so radical and would clog up the courts." However, Richard Ziser, a supporter of the measure, said that it is clear what the petition's objective is - "It is to protect the life of the unborn. They would prefer we used the term abortion. We will see what we will end up with."[13][14][15]

A hearing took place on January 8, 2010, where Carson City District Court Judge James Russell ruled against the petition circulation citing that the petition was too vague and violated a state law that limits questions to one subject.[16][17]

Ruling appealed

On February 11, 2010 Personhood Nevada filed a Nevada Supreme Court appeal of a decision by a district judge that prohibited the circulation of petition aimed at ending abortions. According to Kenneth Wilson, the groups treasurer, they believed at the time that they would have sufficient time to collect enough signatures for the 2010 ballot.[18]

On February 25, the Nevada Supreme Court agreed to hear the case and granted a motion to expedite the handling of the petition. Chief Justice Ron Parraguirre said briefs should have started to be submitted on March 12, 2010 and final briefs should have been filed by April 2, 2010.[19][20] Oral arguments were scheduled for April 6, 2010.[21][22][23]

On June 16, 2010, a day following the petition deadline, the Nevada Supreme Court said, "It appears that the initiative's proponents may not have obtained sufficient signatures to place the measure on the ballot, thus rendering this appeal moot. This court's duty is to decide actual controversies, not to give opinions on moot questions."[24]

Lawsuit rejected

On December 30, 2010, the Nevada Supreme Court rejected a lawsuit, this time filed by amendment supporters, hoping to place the measure on the ballot, stating that the 2010 elections were over, and there was no reason to continue the case.[25]

Lawsuit against first 2012 initiative

The American Civil Liberties Union and Planned Parenthood Federation of America filed a lawsuit on October 13, 2011 against Personhood Nevada. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of six Nevada residents in state court in Carson City.[26]

Anna Maria Serra-Radford, head of the group backing the initiative, commented on the lawsuit filed by opponents: "The language they don't want is that life begins at conception.Let the people decide if they believe the state of Nevada should protect life and the quality of life from beginning to end. If it turns out the people of Nevada don't agree, then let them say so. Not the ACLU, not the abortion providers."

On the other hand, Elisa Cafferata, president and chief executive of Nevada Advocates for Planned Parenthood Affiliates in Reno stated: "Our concern with [the initiative], and one of the reasons for the lawsuit, is that it could potentially be so much more than abortion. If it's about abortion why are they not being clear about that?"

District Judge James E. Wilson ruled to dismiss the second initiative, stating the language of the proposal to be vague and misleading. The measure was then re-written and approved for circulation.[27]

Lawsuit against second 2012 initiative

Another lawsuit was filed against a second initiative that was proposed. On October 14, 2011, the lawsuit was filed against the Nevada Prolife initiative. According to reports, the lawsuit argued that the proposal was vague and misleading.[28]

On December 20, 2011, District Judge James Wilson Jr. ruled that the measure failed to explain the effects it would take if enacted by voters. According to Wilson, supporters of the initiative had to indicate that the measure "will impact some rights Nevada women currently have to utilize some forms of birth control, including the 'pill'; and to access certain fertility treatments such as in vitro fertilization. The initiative will affect embryonic stem cell research, which offers potential for treating diseases such as diabetes, Parkinson's disease, heart disease, and others." The language for the measure was rewritten by Wilson to include these indications. The measure was then approved for circulation.[29]

Both measures approved for circulation

The two measures, one filed by Personhood Nevada and the other by ProLife Nevada, chalked up a win when opponents of the proposals decided to cease legal challenges to language and descriptions of the petitions, which were re-filed after both initiatives were previously struck by District Judge James Wilson Jr. in two separate lawsuits against each measure. Both lawsuits challenged that the language of the proposals were vague and misleading. After rewriting the language, supporters then gained permission to circulate petitions. However, Nevada Prolife decided to withdraw their measure, and instead get behind Personhood Nevada's initiative effort.[30][5]

Initiative organizers had until June 19, 2012 to gather more than 72,000 signatures to qualify the proposed constitutional amendments for the November 2012 ballot.[5]

Path to the ballot

See also: Nevada signature requirements

Originally the measure was proposed for the November 2010 ballot, however, on June 10, five days before the petition drive deadline, supporters announced they did not have sufficient signatures.[2] In order to qualify the measure for the 2010 ballot supporters were required to collect a minimum of 97,002 valid signatures by June 15, 2010.[10] Following the completion of the signature verification, August 4, 2010 was the last day a county clerk could have filed with the secretary of state.[31]

Supporters aimed to qualify the measure for the 2012 ballot.[2]

However, on June 18, 2012, it was reported that supporters missed the deadline and did not have enough signatures to make the 2012 ballot.[32]

2010 effort

Originally the measure was proposed for the November 2010 ballot, however, on June 10, five days before the petition drive deadline, supporters announced they did not have sufficient signatures and would instead aim for the 2012 ballot.[2]

On January 8, 2010, Carson City District Court Judge James Russell ruled that the amendment petition could not be circulated due to the vagueness of the wording and because it violates state law that limits ballot measure questions to one subject. According to Russell, “The issue to me is, are we adequately informing voters on what they're voting on?"[17] On February 11, 2010 Personhood Nevada filed a state Supreme Court appeal of Judge Russell's ruling.[33] As of June 10, the state Supreme Court had not ruled on Personhood Nevada's appeal, preventing the group from circulating it's petition.[2]

On June 16, a day following the petition deadline, the Nevada Supreme Court said, "It appears that the initiative's proponents may not have obtained sufficient signatures to place the measure on the ballot, thus rendering this appeal moot. This court's duty is to decide actual controversies, not to give opinions on moot questions."[24]

See also


External links

Additional reading


  1. KXNT, "Group Seeks Anti-Abortion Ballot Measure," October 22, 2009
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 Las Vegas Review-Journal, "Lack of signatures will keep anti-abortion amendment off ballot," June 10, 2010
  3. The Republic, "APNewsBreak: Anti-abortion group replaces Nev. initiative questioned by judge with new measure," January 9, 2012
  4. Las Vegas Sun, "Anti-abortion group files third rewrite of ballot initiative," February 7, 2012
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 The Republic, "Nevada abortion foes join forces to back 1 initiative measure; second proposal withdrawn," March 20, 2012
  6. Associated Press, "Challenge to NV personhood initiative that would outlaw abortion expected," November 13, 2009
  7. Personhood Nevada, "About," accessed February 16, 2010
  8. Christian Newswire, "Personhood Nevada Files Appeal in State Supreme Court to Keep Personhood Alive," February 11, 2010
  9. The Hill, "Abortion-rights groups take heart from win over Mississippi 'personhood' law," November 14, 2011
  10. 10.0 10.1 Las Vegas Sun, "Anti-abortion groups oppose petition aimed at ban," November 17, 2009
  12. "Put Personhood Amendments Aside to Defeat Obama, Stop Abortion," accessed December 22, 2010
  13. Las Vegas Review-Journal, "ANTI-ABORTION PETITION: 'Personhood' faces challenge," November 13, 2009
  14. KTNV, "Two groups challenge abortion ballot measure," November 13, 2009
  15. Personhood USA, "Planned Parenthood and ACLU Obstruct People's Rights with Lawsuit against Personhood Nevada," November 13, 2009
  16. Associated Press, "Jan. hearing set on Nev. personhood initiative," December 3, 2009 (dead link)
  17. 17.0 17.1 Ms. Magazine, "Nevada Judge Rejects Personhood Initiative Petition," January 8, 2010
  18. Las Vegas Review-Journal, "EXPEDITED HEARING EXPECTED: 'Personhood' ruling appealed: Group hopes court will overturn judge's prohibition of anti-abortion petition," February 16, 2010
  19. Las Vegas Sun, "State Supreme Court to rule on petition to ban abortion," February 25, 2010
  20. Las Vegas Sun, "Anti-abortion group says amendment push similar to slavery issue," March 14, 2010
  21. Associated Press, "ACLU seeks to keep abortion initiative off ballot," March 27, 2010
  22. WeNews, "Nevada's High Court to Hear 'Personhood' Appeal," April 5, 2010
  23., "Nevada Personhood Amendment on Abortion Heads to State Supreme Court for Hearing," April 6, 2010
  24. 24.0 24.1 Personhood Nevada, "Nevada Supreme Court Runs Out the Clock on Personhood Initiative," June 18, 2010
  25. Life News, "Nevada Personhood Amendment Loses Case at Supreme Court," December 31, 2010
  26., "Lawsuit challenges Nevada 'personhood' initiative," October 14, 2011 (dead link)
  27. RH Reality Check, "Nevada Judge Strikes Down Second Egg-as-Person Ballot Initiative in One Week," December 22, 2011
  28. Nevada News Bureau, "Legal Challenges Filed To Halt Anti-Abortion Ballot Measures," October 14, 2011
  29. Ms. Magazine, "NV Judge Rewrites Personhood Initiative to Include Possible Effects," December 20, 2011
  30., "APNewsBreak: Nevada anti-abortion measures proceed," March 2, 2012 (dead link)
  31. Nevada Secretary of State, "Important Initiative Dates," accessed March 10, 2010
  32. RH Reality Check, "Nevada "Egg-As-Person" 2012 Ballot Initiative is Dead," June 18, 2012
  33. Life News, "Nevada Personhood Backers Appeal Judge's Ruling Abortion Amdt Too Broad," February 16, 2010