One of two campaigns hoping to amend the state constitution to roll back Missouri’s abortion ban is giving up its push to reach the 2024 ballot.
Jamie Corley, a longtime GOP Congressional staffer, is withdrawing an initiative petition she helped craft that would have added rape and incest exceptions to Missouri’s abortion ban and legalize the procedure up to 12 weeks. It also would have protected doctors and pregnant patients from prosecution.
But in recent weeks, a competing ballot effort has picked up steam, raising more than $4 million and launching statewide paid signature gathering efforts. That campaign, called Missourians for Constitutional Freedom, is seeking to legalize abortion up to the point of fetal viability.
“We formed this organization because we want to restore access to abortion, and having two initiatives on the ballot is a sure-fire way to make sure that doesn’t happen,” Corley said in an interview with The Independent. “We don’t want to be a spoiler.”
Corley, who launched her campaign in November, will also dismiss a pending lawsuit against Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft challenging his ballot summary and fiscal note as unfair and inaccurate.
Despite giving up on her initiative petition campaign, Corley said her fight isn’t over. Nearly every abortion is illegal in Missouri, with exceptions for medical emergencies.
“It’s truly dangerous,” Corley said. “So we’re rooting this fall for the ban to be overturned.”
When Missourians for Constitutional Freedom announced plans to begin collecting signatures in mid-January, leaders estimated the campaign would need to raise $5 million to successfully gather enough signatures to make the ballot.
The campaign has until May 5 to gather more than 171,000 valid signatures from six of Missouri’s eight congressional districts.
As of Wednesday, Missourians for Constitutional Freedom has reported raising more than $4.4 million in the past three weeks.
Corley said her own resources couldn’t compete.
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She said while volunteers had started gathering signatures, she never got to the point of hiring a signature gathering firm. As of mid-January, Corley’s organization had reported raising more than $61,000, and had spent little of it.
The majority of the donations were given by Corley herself.
But Corley plans to keep her nonprofit, called the Missouri Women and Family Research Fund, alive.
“There’s a lot of work to do in this space,” she said, “and we always wanted a vehicle to be able to live on past a ballot campaign.”
Her team hopes to focus on conducting data-driven research and polling, she said, that could inform legislators on the effects of abortion bans. She believes the nonprofit can fill a unique gap by virtue of being led by Republicans who support abortion rights.
Despite the end of her initiative petition campaign, Corley said her end goal remains the same: “Play a pivotal role in what’s obviously going to be a decades-long process to restoring access to abortion.”
Missourians for Constitutional Freedom launch efforts statewide
As one campaign rolls to a stop, the other is speeding up.
After months of uncertainty around whether Missourians for Constitutional Freedom would move forward with any of their 11 initiative petitions, the group announced a formal campaign in January, backed by Abortion Action Missouri, the ACLU of Missouri and Planned Parenthood affiliates in Kansas City and St. Louis.
The largest donations so far include $1 million from the Sixteen Thirty Fund and $500,000 from the Fairness Project. The 501c4 nonprofits are based outside of Missouri and do not have to disclose their donors. Both organizations contributed to Missouri’s successful 2020 Medicaid expansion initiative petition campaign.
Other contributions include $100,000 from Abortion Action Missouri, $100,000 from the ACLU of Missouri, $75,000 from Planned Parenthood Great Plains and $30,000 from Access Missouri, according to reports filed to the Missouri Ethics Commission.
The organization settled on language that would allow the legislature to “regulate the provision of abortion after fetal viability provided that under no circumstance shall the government deny, interfere with, delay or otherwise restrict an abortion that in the good faith judgment of a treating health care professional is needed to protect the life or physical or mental health of the pregnant person.”
Other versions included attempts to legalize abortion up to 24 weeks of pregnancy and another that would have removed any gestational limits on abortion completely.
On Tuesday night, the campaign hosted five campaign kick-off events around the state. In all, they reported 5,000 people signed up as volunteers to collect signatures.
In Kansas City, the parking lot at the Bruce R Watkins Cultural Center was full before the event officially began, pushing signees to park at a health center across the street.
Iman Alsaden, the chief medical officer at Planned Parenthood Great Plains, addressed a cheering crowd.
“I became an abortion provider to listen to and trust patients,” she said, “to help ensure they have the space to be held when the world has told them they are wrong, when the world has told them they are bad, and when they have limited options to receive excellent medical care.”
With every patient she sees, Alsaden said, she also thinks of the patients who couldn’t get across the Missouri-Kansas border to see her.
“It’s clear that it’s also a pretty communal situation,” said Emily Wales, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Great Plains. “People don’t just want to sign and make sure it’s on the ballot. They also want to talk to other individuals about their experiences and why it matters. That feels like a sea change from where we were with abortion rights even three of four years ago.”
Wales noted that more than 500 people RSVP’ed for Tuesday’s event in Kansas City alone.
Jeanne Rivers, 45, was one of them. Her 6-year-old son, Peter, sat in a corner bouncing to music in his headphones as his mother waited for the event to begin.
“I want him to learn that women have a voice and that he can be part of that voice and learn and be an advocate and defender in his future for us,” Rivers said.
Rivers said she got teary-eyed as she pulled into the long line of cars backed up trying to get into the parking lot.
“Man, I feel great,” she said, smiling.
Anti-abortion groups continue to fight the initiative petition.
A political action committee called Missouri Stands with Women, whose president is veteran anti-abortion activist Sam Lee, was formed last month to fight any abortion initiative petitions that make it to the ballot.
As of Wednesday, the group has reported raising $40,000, including from statewide Republican groups and the Missouri Catholic Conference.
“Our coalition was prepared to inform Missourians on why they should decline to sign both pro-abortion petitions,” Stephanie Bell, a spokeswoman with Missouri Stands with Women, said in a statement Thursday. “So now we will be working twice as hard to defeat one petition instead of two, while pro-abortion activists remain divided on the issue.”
Missouri Right to Life has also launched a “decline to sign” campaign, encouraging those who visit their website to “report pro-abortion signature gatherers” to a hotline and refrain from signing the “deceptive and extreme anti-life measure.”
Missouri Right to Life did not respond to a request for comment.
“It’s hugely telling,” Wales said, “that you would run a campaign to rat on fellow Missourians who want to protect or restore their own rights.”
Missouri Independent is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Missouri Independent maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Jason Hancock for questions: [email protected]. Follow Missouri Independent on Facebook and Twitter.