(Sean Whaley/Nevada News Bureau) – A group calling itself Personhood Nevada is seeking to put on the ballot next year a measure defining human life in such a way as to ban abortion and assisted suicide.
The petition to amend the Nevada constitution is being coordinated by Richard Ziser, chairman of Nevada Concerned Citizens. If the group can collect the nearly 100,000 signatures needed by May to qualify the measure for the ballot, voters would have to approve it in 2010 and 2012 before it could take effect.
“A number of states are working on this type of an amendment,” Ziser said. “It reads that in Nevada, the definition of person applies to every human being.”
Up to now, Nevadans have been able to define a person as they saw fit, he said. The new proposed definition defines a person as one possessing the human genome.
“It will protect life at both ends of the spectrum,” Ziser said.
According to Personhood Nevada, “This amendment codifies the inalienable right to life for everyone, young or old, healthy or ill, conscious or unconscious, born or unborn. It assures protection and dignity to our children, our infirmed and our seniors.”
Ziser said the national group that came to Nevada to discuss the idea of a constitutional amendment is called Personhood USA. The group’s website says: “The primary mission of Personhood USA is to serve Jesus by being an Advocate for those who can not speak for themselves, the pre-born child. We serve by starting – coordinating efforts to establish legal ‘personhood’ for pre-born children through peaceful activism, legislative efforts and ballot-access petition initiatives.”
Jan Gilbert, representing the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, said her organization is opposed to the proposed constitutional amendment.
“We don’t think it is needed and we certainly don’t think it should be put in the constitution,” she said. “This is not the type of issue that should be put on the ballot.”
If the group is concerned about the issue, it should bring the discussion to the Legislature, Gilbert said.
Elisa Maser, president & CEO of Nevada Advocates for Planned Parenthood Affiliates, offered a limited response by email: “We are carefully evaluating the petition and the language with our coalition partners.”
Ziser said the process to qualify a measure for the ballot includes an initial 30-day period where the 200-word ballot description can be challenged legally, so signature gathering efforts won’t begin until after that time.
Legal challenges to ballot measures seem to be the new method of fighting them before they get to voters, so this type of an attack is likely, he said. If the ballot language is clear enough, however, there may not be much to challenge, he said.
Personhood Nevada is also engaged in fundraising efforts to hire professionals to assist in the collection of signatures.
As a result of changes to the ballot petition process in the 2009 Legislature, the group must collect signatures from 10 percent of the number of people who voted in the 2008 general election in the state’s three different Congressional Districts.
Nevada voters in 1990 approved Question 7, which maintains the legal right to an abortion regardless of what the U.S. Supreme Court might do in regard to its landmark Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion.
Ziser said the new amendment would trump that language, although a legal challenge would be likely. While the pro-life movement is behind the effort, those concerned with the federal health care reform legislation and the potential effect on end-of-life issues will also be drawn to the proposal, he said.
Ziser was instrumental in a measure approved in 2002 in Nevada defining marriage as being between a man and a woman.