Nevada judge rejects attempt to get abortion protections on 2024 ballot

Nov 22, 2023, 6:06 PM

RENO, Nev. (AP) — A judge has struck down an effort to enshrine reproductive rights, including abortion, in Nevada’s constitution, as abortion rights advocates in the western swing state attempt to follow other states in putting the question before voters in 2024.

Judge James T. Russell in Carson City District Court concluded on Tuesday that the proposed ballot initiative is too broad, contains a “misleading description of effect” and has an unfunded mandate.

The petition, if passed by voters, would have amended the state constitution to include the “fundamental right to reproductive freedom,” including prenatal care, childbirth, postpartum care, birth control, vasectomy, tubal ligation, abortion and abortion care.

“This is probably the clearest case I have seen that I think there is a violation of the single-subject rule,” Russell said on Tuesday, according to KOLO-TV Reno, which first reported the ruling. “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.”

Russell, the son of former Republican Gov. Charles Russell, was appointed to the bench in January 2007 by moderate Republican Gov. Kenny Guinn. He was threatened after dismissing a lawsuit brought by former President Donald Trump’s campaign seeking to nullify President-elect Joe Biden’s electoral win in Nevada.

The political action committee Nevadans for Reproductive Rights filed the petition to enshrine reproduction rights in the constitution with the Nevada Secretary of State’s office on Sept. 14.

On Oct. 5, the Coalition for Parents and Children PAC filed a complaint with the court challenging the petition’s legality. If allowed to proceed, Nevadans for Reproductive Rights would need just over 100,000 signatures to get the issue on the ballot.

Asked about a possible appeal to the Nevada Supreme Court, Nevadans for Reproductive Rights attorney Bradley Schrager said the group is “considering its options.”

Nevadans for Reproductive Rights president Lindsay Harmon said the group “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.”

Jason Guinasso, an attorney for the Coalition for Parents and Children PAC, said he was happy with the ruling but expected the other side to appeal.

Abortion rights have become a mobilizing issue for Democrats since the U.S. Supreme Court last year overturned Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 court decision establishing a nationwide right to abortion.

Earlier this month, Ohio became the seventh state in which voters decided to protect abortion access.

Meanwhile, constitutional amendments protecting abortion access are already set to appear on the 2024 ballot in New York and Maryland, and could also show up in a host of other states, including Missouri and neighboring Arizona.

Advocates on both sides of the issue are trying to get questions about abortion access on the ballot in at least a dozen states across the country.

Public polling shows about two-thirds of Americans say abortion should generally be legal in the earliest stages of pregnancy. Since the overturning of Roe v. Wade in June 2022, that sentiment has been underscored in elections both in Democratic and deeply Republican states.

Abortion rights up to 24 weeks are already codified into Nevada law through a 1990 referendum vote, where two-thirds of voters were in favor. That can be changed with another referendum vote.

The standards are higher for amending the constitution, which requires either approval from two legislative sessions and an election, or two consecutive elections with a simple majority of votes.

In Nevada, reproductive rights were central to Democratic campaigns in the 2022 midterms. It is set to be a central issue for Democratic U.S. Sen. Jacky Rosen as she looks to defend her seat in 2024.

Lawmakers in Nevada’s Democratic-controlled legislature are attempting to get reproductive rights including abortion access in front of voters on the 2026 ballot. The initiative, which would enshrine those rights in the state constitution, passed the state Senate and Assembly earlier this year, and now must be approved with a simple majority again in 2025 before being eligible for the 2026 ballot.

Democrats, who hold a supermajority in the Assembly, are expected to control both chambers again. They need to flip one red seat blue to hold a supermajority in the Senate.


Stern is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues. Follow Stern on X, formerly Twitter: @gabestern326.

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Nevada judge rejects attempt to get abortion protections on 2024 ballot