Election 2024

Support Us

NV Supreme Court says broader abortion ballot question is constitutional

The measure would protect contraception, fertility and abortion procedures, but backers are focusing more narrowly on safeguarding abortion rights.
Eric Neugeboren
Eric Neugeboren
Tabitha Mueller
Tabitha Mueller
CourtsElection 2024

The Nevada Supreme Court has ruled in favor of granting ballot access to a broad “reproductive freedom” ballot question seeking to enshrine rights to a wide range of birth control, fertility and abortion options into the state Constitution — though the group supporting the initiative is already moving forward with a proposal more narrowly tailored to abortion access.

The 16-page decision released Thursday overturned a lower court’s ruling that said inclusion of topics such as prenatal care, abortions, vasectomies and infertility care under the umbrella of “reproductive rights” within a single ballot question was unconstitutional because the framing was too broad.

“[A]ll the medical procedures considered in the initiative petition concern reproduction. To assert that they could not all be addressed together because they are separate procedures is improper,” read the opinion, which was signed by six of seven justices on the court. Justice Patricia Lee recused herself from the case because of a professional conflict of interest.

But the ruling will likely not affect the petition’s chances of landing on the November ballot, as the group supporting it — Nevadans for Reproductive Freedom — has said it intends to prioritize collecting signatures on a narrower petition that focuses only on abortion rights.

The high court will also rule on the constitutionality of that proposal — which received approval from a lower court judge in January — though Thursday’s opinion indicates that it is almost sure to pass legal muster from the state’s high court.

Abortion is already legal through 24 weeks into a pregnancy in Nevada because of a 1990 referendum, which can only be overturned by a majority vote of the people. Abortion rights advocates say that enshrining similar language in the state Constitution would make it even harder to overturn.

Though Nevadans for Reproductive Freedom does not plan to bring the broader petition to the ballot this year, the organization still celebrated the decision.

“Protecting these rights is essential to ensuring that all Nevadans maintain full control over their own lives, especially as we continue to see attacks on abortion, IVF, birth control, and other reproductive health services,” Lindsey Harmon, the group’s president, said in a statement.

Thursday’s ruling overturned a Carson City District Court judge’s November decision that the proposal was unconstitutional because it violated a rule requiring that any ballot initiative only focus on a single subject. 

Jason Guinasso, the lawyer representing the group challenging the proposal, said in a statement that the ruling would set a precedent to allow overly broad ballot initiatives.

“The Court has transformed the single-subject rule into the single-category rule, which will open the floodgates to broad and deceptive initiative proposals like the one at issue in this case,” the statement said. “My clients will now focus on educating the voters on why this proposal is bad law and policy for Nevadans.”

To make it on the ballot, petition supporters still must gather 102,362 signatures from voters by June 26, with at least 25,591 signatures coming from each of the state’s four congressional districts. Nevadans for Reproductive Freedom said earlier this month that it was halfway to its signature goal and “on track” to meet the signature deadline, though it did not offer specifics on how many signatures it had gathered from each congressional district.

The ballot initiatives are part of a concerted effort by Nevada Democrats to strengthen abortion protections in hopes that the issue’s popularity will help propel Democrats to victory this year. Democrats benefited politically after the June 2022 overturning of Roe v. Wade, and the party is now hoping to continue capitalizing on that enthusiasm — a poll last year indicated that more than 60 percent of Nevadans across all parties support adding abortion rights to the Constitution.

Thursday’s ruling also bolsters a legislative effort to enshrine protections for a broad range of reproductive health care procedures in the Nevada Constitution. That proposal, which has essentially identical language as the one approved by the Supreme Court on Thursday, passed the Legislature last year and must pass again in 2025 for it to appear on the 2026 ballot.

In a Thursday statement, Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro (D-Las Vegas), who sponsored the legislative effort, said state lawmakers in 2025 will consider additional measures to protect fertility treatment options, birth control and other reproductive health services.

“It has always been abundantly clear that reproductive rights encompass the full scope of reproductive health care services, and today’s unanimous Nevada Supreme Court unequivocally reaffirms that principle,” she said in the statement.

This story was updated on 4/18/2024 at 2:29 p.m. to include a statement from Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro and on 4/19/2024 at 8:25 a.m. to include a statement from Jason Guinasso.


Featured Videos