A coalition of abortion rights advocates in Missouri is formally launching a campaign to pass a constitutional amendment restoring a right to abortion, one of two ballot measure efforts in the state this year.
Missouri was the first state to outlaw abortion after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June 2022 with a law that bans virtually all abortions and threatens physicians who defy the ban with felony charges. The ban has no exceptions for rape or incest, only for a threat to the patient’s health.
“Missouri’s cruel and restrictive ban on abortion is tying the hands of doctors and preventing necessary care,” Dr. Iman Alsaden, chief medical officer of Planned Parenthood Great Plains and adviser to the coalition, Missourians for Constitutional Freedom, said in a statement.
The coalition’s proposal would guarantee a right to abortion to the point of fetal viability, which is determined by physicians but is usually around 22 to 25 weeks of pregnancy, as well as other forms of reproductive health care including contraception access and miscarriage care, and requires the state to use the “least restrictive means” in regulating abortion. The measure’s language has been the subject of court battles with Republican elected officials in the state that were resolved, at least for now, in November.
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“Passing this amendment will end our state’s abortion ban and make sure that Missourians and their families can once again make the decisions that are best for them,” said Tori Schafer, deputy director of policy and campaigns at the ACLU of Missouri, which is part of the coalition along with groups including Abortion Action Missouri, Planned Parenthood Great Plains Votes, and Advocates of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri.
The group must gather a minimum of around 171,000 signatures from six out of Missouri’s eight congressional districts by early May to get the amendment on the November 2024 ballot.
But unlike in most states that have directly voted on abortion so far, Missouri has two competing abortion ballot measure campaigns both aiming to get their proposed constitutional amendments on the November ballot.
The Missouri Women and Family Research Fund, led by former GOP congressional staffer Jamie Corley, has started gathering signatures for a proposed constitutional amendment that would legalize abortion in Missouri through the first 12 weeks of pregnancy and up to the point of fetal viability in cases of rape, incest or threat of the life of the pregnant patient.
Voters in at least 11 states could have constitutional amendments to restore or enshrine abortion access on their November 2024 ballots. Earlier this month, a coalition of advocates in Florida secured the required number of signatures to get a measure guaranteeing a right to abortion to the point of fetal viability on the ballot in November.
Abortion rights advocates have been victorious in each of the seven states where abortion has appeared directly on the ballot since the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe. A 2022 survey from the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) found that 59 percent of Missourians believed abortion should be legal in most or all cases, while 11 percent believed abortion should be illegal in most or all cases.
“Republicans, Democrats and independents, we all agree that Missourians deserve the right to make their own health care decisions without government meddling in their business,” Schafer said. “And this coalition will be broad and large, and focused on our Missouri voices.”
In November 2023, voters in the red-leaning state of Ohio approved a constitutional amendment guaranteeing a right to abortion and other forms of reproductive health care in the state by a margin of 14 points.
Corley says her group’s initiative likely has the broadest appeal to voters. Some abortion rights proponents in Missouri have publicly criticized Corley’s proposed measure for not going far enough to guarantee abortion rights protections in the state. “If other groups want to sabotage and name-call, that’s their prerogative. We obviously have very different approaches to advocacy,” Corley told the Missouri Independent in November.
“The Missourians for Constitutional Freedom coalition is a broad coalition led by Missouri advocates and experts in reproductive care,” Schafer said. “We know this is the winning strategy, and we’re hopeful that everyone will get behind this measure.”
Ballot measure campaigns are highly expensive and time-consuming endeavors. Campaign finance reports filed on Tuesday show Missourians for Constitutional Freedom had no cash on hand as of December 31, 2023, the Associated Press reported, while the Missouri Women and Family Research Fund reported having $61,000 on hand, $50,000 of which came from a donation from Corley.
As abortion rights advocates have found increasing success with ballot measures, Republican elected officials in Missouri and around the country have sought to block abortion-related measures from passing and to more broadly undermine direct democracy.
“We’re confident we’re going to collect the signatures we need. We’re also confident that any legal roadblocks that politicians try to set up are completely political and will continue to fail in court,” Schafer said. “We know that Missourians are uniquely prepared for this effort. We have done this before election cycle after election cycle, and we know what to expect from our opposition.”
Last year, Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey unsuccessfully pushed to inflate the estimated cost of the measures, and Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft suggested he’d refuse to do his job if an abortion measure passed. Both officials are Republicans.
In November 2023, the state Supreme Court rejected Ashcroft’s proposed ballot summary language for the measures as “replete with politically partisan language.” The court approved six versions of the amendment petitions Missourians for Constitutional Freedom originally filed in March 2023.
Another newly registered group, Missouri Stands With Women, which opposes abortion, says it will work to defeat measures aimed at “enshrining extreme abortion initiatives to the state’s constitution,” Missouri Scout and the St. Louis Post Dispatch reported Wednesday.
“It’s no surprise to us, of course, that the politicians want to stop us, but we’re confident they will not succeed,” Schafer said. “They banned abortion in Missouri without a vote by the people and we are restoring that vote.”