JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – After a victory for abortion rights in Ohio earlier this week, supporters in Missouri are hopeful voters will have the chance to overturn the state’s ban next year.
Just like the Show Me State, Ohio is a Republican-controlled state. Following the win in Ohio, many Missouri abortion rights supporters are energized about the possible vote. But a handful of the proposed ballot measures continue to be held up in intense court battles surrounding the language voters would see on the ballot and how much it would cost the state if approved.
“This isn’t about whether I like language or don’t like language; this is about making sure that the people know the truth and are not misled,” Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft said outside the Missouri Western District Court of Appeals building in Kansas City last month.
Supporters of the referendum accuse Ashcroft of writing misleading ballot summary language, which is why the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Missouri filed the lawsuit, leading a Cole County judge in Jefferson City to write the summaries himself.
In the ballot summary the ACLU is calling misleading, Ashcroft asks voters whether to “allow for dangerous, unregulated and unrestricted abortions, from contraception to live birth, without requiring a medical license or potentially being subject to medical malpractice.”
His summary would also ask voters to “nullify longstanding Missouri law protecting the right to life, including but not limited to partial-birth abortion.”
Ashcroft appealed Judge Jon Beetem’s ruling, sending the case to Kansas City to be heard in front of a three-judge panel, which ruled less than 24 hours after hearing the case, saying the Secretary of State’s language is “insufficient” and “politically partisan.”
“The secretary of state and the attorney general in particular, by not doing their jobs as required by the law, have extended the amount of time it’s taking to get a fair summary statement,” ACLU legal director Tony Rothert said. “We should have had one by May 1. Whether or not there will be enough time will depend on the people of Missouri and whether they are interested enough to collect the signatures.”
After the hearing last month in Kansas City, the ACLU spoke outside the courthouse, blaming Ashcroft for the delay in gathering the required 170,000 signatures needed to put the question on the ballot.
The appeals court rewrote the language, asking voters if they want to amend the constitution to “establish a right to make decisions about reproductive health care, including abortion and contraceptives, with any government interference of that right presumed invalid; and to remove Missouri’s ban on abortion.”
On Tuesday night, Ohio voters passed similar language, allowing the state to restrict abortion after fetal viability or 24 weeks of pregnancy.
“It makes me really hopeful for the entire country that there will soon be a time when you don’t cross state lines and have more rights in neighboring states than what you do here at home,” president and CEO of Planned Parenthood West Plains Emily Wales said Wednesday, following a Supreme Court hearing over Medicaid reimbursements.
Following the overturning of Roe v. Wade, Missouri became the first state in the country to ban abortion except for medical emergencies.
“We see patients who are coming across state lines desperate for care, many of them from Missouri,” Wales said. “I think again and again, what we’ve seen in state after state is that abortion is a winning issue. Making private medical decisions without government overreach and interference is a winning issue.”
The state’s federal delegation is also in favor of letting voters decide.
“I’m all in favor of the people getting to decide it, whether it happens through electing their state legislators, who then vote, or whether it’s an initiative referendum, and we have that process in Missouri,” U.S. Senator Josh Hawley said. “However, the people decide to make up their minds on this issue, I think that they are the ones that ought to have control here, not nine unelected judges.”
“I think this is going to play out in all 50 states and Missourians are going to have their chance to weigh in, and I support that,” U.S. Senator Eric Schmitt said.
Sam Lee, in a statement from the director of Campaign Life Missouri, said Missouri is not like Ohio. He also pointed out that abortion rights supporters have yet to start collecting signatures.
“We are greatly saddened by the passage of an abortion amendment to the Ohio constitution,” Lee said. “It will now be harder for Ohio lawmakers to protect both the lives of unborn children and the health and safety of women seeking abortions.”
Ashcroft filed an appeal following the Western District’s ruling and asked for the case to be transferred to the Missouri Supreme Court, but the request was denied.
Supporters have until May to gather the signatures needed to put the proposed measure on the ballot next year.