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Nevada judge strikes down effort to place abortion rights on 2024 ballot

District Court Judge James Russell said the ballot question was too broad. Reproductive rights groups plan to appeal the ruling to the Nevada Supreme Court.
Eric Neugeboren
Eric Neugeboren
CourtsHealth Care

A Carson City judge has struck down an effort from reproductive rights groups to place a question on the 2024 ballot that aimed to establish a state constitutional right to abortion.

District Court Judge James Russell ruled Tuesday that the proposed question — which would have guaranteed a right to “all matters relating to pregnancy,” including birth control, abortion care and prenatal care — violated Nevada law because it was too broad for a single ballot question. He also said the implications of the question were unclear and it would implicitly require a funding source.

“This is probably the clearest case I have seen that I think there is a violation of the single subject rule,” Russell said Tuesday, according to KOLO News. “I’ve seen a lot of them over the years and in respect to this particular matter, there are too many subjects. Not all of which are functionally related to each other.” 

The ballot measure is being spearheaded by the Nevadans for Reproductive Freedom PAC, which was founded this year and is affiliated with Planned Parenthood’s advocacy arm. The PAC plans to appeal Russell’s ruling to the Nevada Supreme Court, according to KOLO News.

Lindsay Harmon, president of Nevadans for Reproductive Freedom, said in a statement Wednesday that “we will not let one judge’s misguided ruling deter us from giving Nevadans the opportunity to vote to permanently protect their reproductive rights in the Nevada Constitution.”

Even if the Nevada Supreme Court reverses the decision, petition supporters would need to obtain at least 102,586 signatures by July 8, 2024, to qualify the measure for the 2024 ballot. If the measure makes it on the ballot and passes, it would be placed on the ballot again in 2026; a second affirmative vote would add the language to the state constitution.

Abortion is already legal up to 24 weeks into a pregnancy in Nevada because of a 1990 referendum, but other states have taken action to enshrine abortion rights in their constitutions after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last year. More than 60 percent of Nevadans support adding abortion rights to the constitution, according to a Nevada Independent poll from April.

A PAC called the Coalition for Parents and Children sued to block the effort last month. The lawsuit argued the ballot question was illegal because it is too broad for a single question, does not reflect the entire implications of the question and would cost taxpayer funds.

Jason Guinasso, the lawyer for the plaintiffs, said in an interview on Wednesday that the ruling was the “right outcome.”

“They [have] got to do a better job of redefining what it is they are proposing,” he said.

Harmon said in a statement when the lawsuit was announced that it “is a craven attempt to intervene in the democratic process.” 

State lawmakers are already moving toward placing a similar question on the 2026 ballot enshrining abortion rights in the state constitution. The Legislature passed a bill this year to do so, and the same bill must be passed by legislators again in 2025 before it can reach voters.

Editor’s Note: Jason Guinasso is a contributing writer to The Nevada Independent’s opinion page.

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