Carson City judge approves abortion rights amendment for 2024 ballot

People watch as Vice President Kamala Harris speaks on reproductive freedom at Howard University on Tuesday, April 25, 2023, in Washington. (AP Photo/Nathan Howard)

By Isabel Soisson

January 24, 2024

Carson City District Judge James Russell on Tuesday ruled against anti-abortion activists and their latest attempt at restricting reproductive rights, clearing the way for an abortion rights amendment to appear on the 2024 Nevada ballot.

The proposed petition from the Nevadans for Reproductive Freedom PAC would ask voters whether they want to amend the state constitution to include the right to an abortion up to 24 weeks.

Russell previously blocked a broader measure from Nevadans for Reproductive Freedom that sought to amend the state constitution to include the “fundamental right to reproductive freedom,” including abortion care, birth control, prenatal care, childbirth, postpartum care, vasectomy, tubal ligation, management of a miscarriage, and infertility care.

A newly formed PAC called the Coalition for Parents and Children challenged that measure, arguing that it violated a state requirement that petitions address only a single subject. The initial petition, they further argued, contained a misleading or inaccurate description of effect and involved an unfunded mandate.

Russell ruled in favor of the anti-abortion activists in November, a ruling that Nevadans for Reproductive Freedom has appealed to the Nevada Supreme Court. The group—which includes Planned Parenthood Votes Nevada, Reproductive Freedom for All Nevada, and the ACLU of Nevada—then filed the second petition in December and narrowed its focus.

The Coalition for Parents and Children filed a lawsuit over the second effort as well, but Russell ruled against them.

“Today’s ruling ensures Nevadans will have the opportunity to establish a permanent state constitutional right to abortion this November,” Lindsey Harmon, president of Nevadans for Reproductive Freedom said in a statement on Tuesday.

Harmon also reiterated that the group would also continue fighting for the initial, broader amendment, which seeks to protect other reproductive rights in addition to abortion.

“However, abortion rights are not the only form of reproductive freedom under attack across the country,” Harmon said. “Protecting miscarriage management, birth control, prenatal and postpartum care, and other vital reproductive health care services are inextricably linked pieces of a singular right to reproductive freedom.”

While they wait for a ruling on the initial amendment, Russell’s ruling will allow Nevadans for Reproductive Freedom to begin collecting the 103,000 signatures they need from registered voters by June 26, 2024. If the group accomplishes this, the ballot measure will need to pass with a simple majority of the vote in Nov. 2024 in order for it to appear again on the 2026 ballot; a second passage is required to amend the state constitution.

The proposed language of the narrower amendment says the state “may not penalize, prosecute, or take adverse action against any individual based on the outcome of a pregnancy of the individual, or against any licensed health care provider who acts consistent with the applicable scope and practice of providing reproductive health care services to an individual who has granted their voluntary consent.”

Further, it adds that “neither may the State penalize, prosecute, or take adverse action against any individual or entity for aiding or assisting another individual in the exercise of the rights established by this initiative.”

In 1990, Nevada voters chose to codify the right to have an abortion into state law by a 2-to-1 margin. Under state law, any person in Nevada who is pregnant can have an abortion in the first 24 weeks of pregnancy. After that, abortions may still be performed only if a doctor determines the life or health of the pregnant person is at risk.

The proposed constitutional language would provide similar protections by banning restrictions before fetal viability, which usually occurs around the same point in pregnancy. Amending the state’s constitution would make it more difficult to undo these protections.

The effort to enshrine abortion rights in the state constitution comes as a contentious Senate race is set to take place in Nevada this year between incumbent Democratic Senator Jacky Rosen and one of several Republican candidates.

Rosen has been vocal in her support of abortion rights and supported the Women’s Health Protection Act, a bill that sought to enshrine protections from Roe v. Wade into federal law, but was defeated in the Senate last year.

Most of her potential Republican opponents, however, oppose abortion rights.

Retired US Army Capt. Sam Brown, considered the favorite in the Republican primary, is on record previously supporting a 20-week abortion ban in Texas, where he previously ran for office.

  • Isabel Soisson

    Isabel Soisson is a multimedia journalist who has worked at WPMT FOX43 TV in Harrisburg, along with serving various roles at CNBC, NBC News, Philadelphia Magazine, and Philadelphia Style Magazine.

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