The Missouri Supreme Court on Monday declined to take up cases involving vote summaries and costs of initiative petitions that would legalize abortion in the state.
The state high court’s decision is a victory for abortion rights supporters, who were counting on a favorable outcome before deciding which initiative petition would circulate over the coming months.
Earlier this year, a group called Missourians for Constitutional Freedom filed 11 proposals to repeal the state’s abortion ban, which prohibits the procedure except in medical emergencies. But the group sued after Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft wrote summaries he said were unfair.
Ashcroft wrote that these initiatives would allow “unsafe, unregulated and unrestricted abortions from conception to live birth” and “overturn Missouri’s longstanding law protecting the right to life.”
A Cole County judge rewrote the summaries, and the Western District Court of Appeal largely upheld those descriptions that were generally more favorable to Missourians in favor of constitutional liberty. Among other things, the appeals court said the initiatives would “establish the right to make decisions about reproductive health care, including abortion and contraceptives, with any government interference presumed invalid” and “remove the ‘Missouri’s Abortion Ban’.
Ashcroft appealed the decision, but the Supreme Court decided not to review it. The court also refused to transfer a separate case from abortion rights supporters challenging Auditor Scott Fitzpatrick’s financial estimate of the initiatives.
“The courts’ repeated rejection of the Secretary of State’s arguments confirms that his case has no legal significance but instead shows that he will sacrifice the constitutional rights of Missourians to obtain the support and funding of interest organizations special in order to advance his political career,” said Tom Bastain, spokesperson for the ACLU of Missouri.
Ashcroft did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the court’s decision.
Monday’s rejection of Ashcroft’s appeals effectively ends a long legal battle that cost Missourians for Constitutional Freedom time to gather the roughly 171,000 signatures needed to place one of the initiatives on the ballot.
“The Missouri Supreme Court has upheld the people’s democratic right to a fair initiative petition process and their right to use their voices to demand access to abortion,” said Mallory Schwarz of Abortion Action Missouri .
The group’s proposals range from allowing abortions up to 24 weeks of pregnancy or fetal viability to an initiative that does not specify a gestation limit for the procedure. Some abortion rights groups, including Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis area and southwest Missouri, are pushing for an initiative with as few restrictions as possible.
Whatever supporters decide, they will have until May to gather the necessary signatures.
“Ashcroft has intentionally sabotaged this process over the past nine months,” Schwarz said. “And now, because of his actions, any campaign is left to assess the damage and see what is possible to move forward on this timeline that should have been done six months ago.”
Competing campaign begins signature-gathering process
The court rulings come as another group, the Missouri Women and Family Research Fund, began collecting signatures for an initiative to reduce Missouri’s abortion ban.
This group’s measure would legalize abortion up to 12 weeks of pregnancy. It would, among other things, create exceptions in cases of rape, incest, fatal fetal abnormalities and risks to the health or safety of the mother. And this measure would protect women and doctors from criminal or civil liability.
“It’s not pro-life to say parents can’t help their child if she’s raped,” said Jamie Corley, executive director of the Missouri Women and Family Research Fund. “It is not pro-life to criminalize and shame women. It is not pro-life to stand idly by while the abortion ban wreaks havoc on Missouri’s maternal health care system.
Corley also disputes Ashcroft’s summary of his vote on his initiative. But a lawyer representing her in the case, Chuck Hatfield, said there is legal precedent for groups to collect and retain signatures — even if a court rewrites the ballot summary. Corley is also continuing to estimate costs.
Some abortion rights groups have criticized Corley’s initiatives as inadequate, with Schwarz adding that the measure is “not good policy and will not protect the people who need support the most.” .
Some opponents of abortion rights have argued that Corley’s initiatives are broader than advertised.
Corley pointed to polling commissioned by his group showing bipartisan support for many components of his group’s initiative.
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