Judge OKs revised ballot petition to protect abortion access in constitution
Nevadans for Reproductive Freedom announced Tuesday that a Carson City judge determined that a proposed ballot measure seeking to protect access to abortion in the state constitution meets statutory requirements and can go before voters for signature-gathering.
The proposed constitutional amendment seeks to protect the right to an abortion until fetal viability, about 23 or 24 weeks, or as needed to protect the life or health of a pregnant patient. If the amendment qualifies and passes in subsequent elections, abortion protections would be more difficult to overturn than they are under existing state law, which protects abortion up to 24 weeks. The law was approved by voters in 1990 and could only be overturned by a majority vote of state residents.
Donna Washington, a Reno pastor’s wife, initiated the legal complaint against the ballot petition, arguing the proposed amendment contained an unfunded mandate. The judge’s order indicates that the petition is “legally adequate” and said that the plaintiffs did not provide any evidence that the petition would incur unfunded costs.
Washington’s attorney, Jason Guinasso, said in an email that his clients were “disappointed that the District Court did not find the abortion petition deceptive and misleading,” and said they intend to appeal the decision.
“Nevada voters deserve to know what the proposed Constitutional amendment is intended to do to change Nevada law protecting a women's right to abortion and how it will negate or modify existing statutes protecting the abortion rights of women in Nevada and how Nevada taxpayers will pay for their proposed change in the law,” Guinasso wrote.
In the wake of the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade in June 2022, efforts to restore abortion protections are taking place across the country. The goals are two-fold: increase Democratic turnout in a presidential election year to elect abortion rights supporters and address attempts by lawmakers in red states to restrict access to abortion.
Petitioners proposed the constitutional amendment after a more expansive amendment lost an initial a legal challenge and is pending an appeal in the state Supreme Court. That amendment seeks to strengthen protections for reproductive care in a broader sense, including guaranteeing individuals the right to make decisions about “all matters relating to pregnancy,” from prenatal and postpartum care to vasectomy and abortion.
A Carson City court ruled the first proposed measure dealt with too many different issues for a single ballot measure, which by state law must “embrace one subject.” Nevadans for Reproductive Freedom filed the narrower constitutional amendment almost a month after it lost the case.
Nevadans for Reproductive Freedom President Lindsey Harmon, who is also the executive director of Planned Parenthood Votes Nevada, celebrated the ruling in a press release Tuesday, saying that it will ensure voters will have a way to establish a permanent constitutional right to abortion.
Harmon said that other vital reproductive health care services are intertwined with abortion access, and the group is still waiting on the state Supreme Court to rule on the more expansive proposed constitutional amendment.
“We remain confident that the Nevada Supreme Court will recognize that our initial petition meets all requirements under Nevada law and will quickly issue a favorable ruling on our pending appeal,” she said.
This story was updated on 1/24/2024 at 2 p.m. to include a state from Washington’s attorney. It was again updated on 1/25/2024 at 2 p.m. to include the judge’s order.