14 December 2023
A reproductive rights group is pursuing a new ballot initiative to protect abortion access in the Nevada Constitution, after the group’s initial effort to place a similar question on the 2024 ballot stalled amid legal challenges.
The newer proposed constitutional amendment — filed last week by Nevadans for Reproductive Freedom — would protect the right to an abortion until fetal viability, generally considered about 23 or 24 weeks, or when needed to protect the life or health of the pregnant patient. Placing those protections in the state Constitution would make them more difficult to overturn than the same protections already in place in state law.
The existing protections were approved by Nevada voters in 1990, and can only be overturned by a majority vote.
Pro abortion groups have sought similar ballot initiatives across the country to juice Democratic turnout and give voters a say on abortion access in red states where lawmakers have largely restricted the practice since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last year.
The protections in the latest Nevada petition are not as expansive as the ones originally sought by Nevadans for Reproductive Freedom in a petition filed three months ago. The group’s first proposed constitutional amendment would strengthen protections for reproductive care, including guaranteeing individuals the right to make decisions about “all matters relating to pregnancy,” from prenatal and postpartum care to vasectomy and abortion.
But last month, a Carson City District Court judge struck down that initiative, agreeing with opponents that it violated the single subject rule — a requirement under state law that ballot initiatives “embrace one subject.” The group’s efforts to get that initiative back on track are still pending in the Nevada Supreme Court.
Caroline Mello Roberson, director of state campaigns for the national group Reproductive Freedom for All, said in an interview Thursday the group remains committed to the pending appeal for its first initiative, but is working to ensure reproductive rights are on the ballot in 2024 “one way or the other.”
“We’re leaving nothing to chance,” Roberson said. “We looked at this and said, OK, well, what’s the thing that is the greatest need for us to focus on?’ And that is abortion rights.”
Still, she said it was “a little shocking” that the district court judge found topics in the first petition, including birth control and pregnancy options, to not fall under one subject.
“We’re also waiting to see if anyone files a legal challenge to the alternative measure,” Roberson said.
That amendment is likely to pass in the Legislature again in 2025 before heading to the 2026 general election ballot, while either initiative sought by Nevadans for Reproductive Freedom would need to pass in the 2024 and 2026 general elections to take effect.
If the broader petition is successful, Roberson said, “we would advise the Legislature ‘pull back on SJR7 in 2025,’ so we won’t have a duplicative effort.”
To qualify either petition for the ballot, the group must obtain signatures from at least 102,362 people (equal to 10 percent of the voters in the previous general election), with at least 25,591 signatures from each of the state’s four congressional districts. The group cannot gather signatures on the first petition, however, while it remains challenged in court.