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What it means to be ‘pro-life’

The odds Nevada voters would approve a constitutional amendment that seeks to ban all abortions in the Silver State would have to improve to be called “slim.” Even so, it appears less and less likely that they’ll get the chance.

The Nevada Prolife Coalition last week filed its third initiative petition seeking to extend the full constitutional protections of “personhood” to people from the moment of conception. It’s most intriguing feature is also its most controversial: It would make no exceptions for rape, incest or pregnancies that imperil the life of the mother.

That feature — along with interpretations that would outlaw some birth control — have created divisions even within Nevada’s pro-life community. A coalition of groups that oppose abortion has come out against the initiative, and says it will not condemn any pro-life politician for opposing it.

“What this is about is strategy,” says Don Nelson, president of Nevada Life. “We don’t think it could win.”

Nelson points to state such as Colorado and Mississippi, where similar personhood initiatives failed. He says he worries that the issue will divide the pro-life community while giving opponents the chance to raise money and mobilize voters on the largely illusory fear that abortion will be outlawed should the measure pass.

(It won’t: Federal law since Roe v. Wade invalidates state bans on abortion. Should Roe v. Wade be overturned, however, states could make their own laws on the subject. Nevada law — affirmed by referendum — currently says the state won’t ban abortions.)

Nelson says the abortion rate has fallen in the last two decades, and that the personhood amendment could unravel some of those gains.

“Just because you’re pro-life doesn’t give you the right to lead a pro-life Pickett’s Charge,” he says, invoking the doomed final Southern offensive at the battle of Gettysburg.

But Chet Gallagher, the resident agent for the Nevada Prolife Coalition’s PAC, says such pragmatic concerns actually undercut the pro-life movement by condoning exceptions when abortion is allowable.

“If it’s a baby, there’s never a good reason to kill a baby,” he says. “People are getting it. They’re understanding that we shouldn’t justify the killing of some children.”

Ironically enough, Nelson — and many others in the pro-life movement — agree abortion is wrong, even for rape and incest. Gallagher says the pro-life movement’s traditional willingness to allow for some abortions is a case of misguided compassion or ill-considered pragmatism, and he predicts more and more pro-lifers will eventually agree with his point of view.

But nobody in Nevada will have a chance to express their opinion either way if the measure never gets to the ballot: The American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada and Planned Parenthood Federation of America are — once again — challenging the wording of the petition’s “description of effect” as vague and misleading.

An earlier such challenge resulted in a Carson City judge re-writing that portion of the petition to make it legally acceptable, but the group rejected those edits and re-filed with its own wording Jan. 9.

“I think there’s still a great deal of vagueness,” says Staci Pratt, the ACLU’s legal director. “If you don’t like a description of effect that’s clear, then I have to question your motives.”

Gallagher says the re-writes were cut-and-pasted from the ACLU’s briefs, and his group was unwilling to have its argument written by its opponents.

Still, it’s entirely possible that stridency may cost him: Although the Prolife Coalition is launching its signature-gathering effort on Sunday — the 39th anniversary of Roe v. Wade — if a judge rejects the petition’s wording, the group will have to re-start gathering signatures from scratch, making the long odds of a Nevada constitutional amendment even longer.


Steve Sebelius is a Review-Journal political columnist and author of the blog SlashPolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.Twitter.com/SteveSebelius or reach him at 387-5276 or SSebelius@reviewjournal.com.

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