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Nevada judge approves signature-gathering stage for petition to put abortion rights on 2024 ballot

RENO, Nev. (AP) — A Nevada judge has approved a petition by abortion access advocates as eligible for signature gathering in their long-standing attempt to get abortion rights on the 2024 ballot.

Carson City District Judge James T. Russell made the ruling Tuesday, about two months after he struck down a similar yet broader version that, if passed, would have enshrined additional reproductive rights into the state’s constitution.

If the Nevadans for Reproductive Freedom political action committee gets enough signatures, a question would appear on the November ballot that would enshrine abortion access into the Nevada constitution for up to 24 weeks, or as needed to protect the health of the pregnant patient. Then, voters would need to pass again on the 2026 ballot to amend the constitution.

Russell's ruling struck down a challenge by the Coalition for Parents and Children political action committee that claimed the ballot question was inadequate and contained an unfunded mandate, according to a copy of the judge's order.

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.

The petition that was cleared for signatures is one of two efforts from the Nevadans for Reproductive Freedom committee to get the right to abortion on the 2024 ballot.

Russell rejected an earlier petition in a November ruling, saying the proposed ballot initiative was too broad, contained a “misleading description of effect” and had an unfunded mandate.

The petition would have included protections for “matters relating to their pregnancies” including prenatal care, childbirth, postpartum care, birth control, vasectomies, tubal ligations, abortion and abortion care as well as care for miscarriages and infertility. Nevadans for Reproductive Freedoms appealed that rejection to the Nevada Supreme Court and are waiting for a new ruling.

The petition approved for signatures Tuesday had narrower language — “establishing a fundamental, individual right to abortion,” which applies to “decisions about matters relating to abortion” without government interference.

In a statement following the ruling, Nevadans for Reproductive Freedom spokesperson Lindsey Hamon celebrated the ruling but said she remained confident that the committee's initial petition will be recognized as eligible by the Nevada Supreme Court.

“Abortion rights are not the only form of reproductive freedom under attack across the country,” Hamon 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.”

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

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 states, including Missouri and neighboring Arizona.

Lawmakers in Nevada’s Democratic-controlled Legislature are also 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 in May 2023 and now must be approved with a simple majority again in 2025 before being eligible for the 2026 ballot.

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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. Follow Stern on X, formerly Twitter: @gabestern326.