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May 26, 2024

Missouri abortion rights group collects enough signatures to advance ballot measure

Missouri abortion rights group collects enough signatures to advance ballot measure

A proposed amendment to enshrine abortion access in Missouri’s constitution cleared a key hurdle Friday to appear on the ballot this year after a coalition of reproductive rights advocates submitted the required number of valid signatures to state officials.

Missourians for Constitutional Freedom, the group leading the ballot effort, announced it had collected signatures from more than 380,000 registered voters — more than the approximately 172,000 it needed to move forward with the process of qualifying their proposal for the ballot.

The group had faced a May 5 deadline to submit the signatures.

The proposed amendment would enshrine language in the state constitution that protects abortion rights up until fetal viability, or around the 24th week of pregnancy, with exceptions after that point for the life and health of the mother.

The amendment specifically states that the government “shall not deny or infringe upon a person’s fundamental right to reproductive freedom” which the amendment defines as all decisions related to reproductive health care, explicitly including “birth control,” “abortion care” and “miscarriage care” — up until fetal viability. 

The proposal also deems any “denial, interference, delay or restriction” of such care as “invalid.”

After that point, the government may regulate abortion except in cases where a treating health care professional has judged the “life or physical or mental health” of the mother to be at risk.

At the same time, the amendment would allow lawmakers and state officials to restrict or limit abortion rights in situations where doing so “is for the limited purpose and has the limited effect of improving or maintaining the health of a person seeking care, is consistent with widely accepted clinical standards of practice and evidence-based medicine, and does not infringe on that person’s autonomous decision-making.”

Missouri currently has one of the strictest abortion bans in the U.S. in place, with exceptions to protect the life of the mother and for medical emergencies. If the amendment were to pass, it would effectively undo that law.

It’s likely that ballot measure effort will still face legal challenges in coming weeks and months. Anti-abortion rights Republicans in the state, including conservative Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft, have spent months fighting the coalition’s actions in court.

Last year, Missourians for Constitutional Freedom had filed 11 proposed amendments with state officials. Since March, the group’s proposed ballot language in several of those proposed measures had faced legal challenges by Ashcroft.

Only after the coalition won those lawsuits was it able to select which of the proposed measures to advance to the signature-collecting phase.

It remains unclear on whether the amendment would appear on the primary or general election ballot.

Under state law, Gov. Mike Parson, a Republican, has the sole power to decide which ballot to place the measure on. He could choose to place the proposed amendment on the Aug. 6 primary ballot or the Nov. 5 general election ballot.

Missouri is one of 11 states where organizers are seeking to enshrine abortion rights in state constitutions via citizen-led ballot initiatives. The measures are officially on the ballot in Maryland, New York and Florida.

Adam Edelman

Adam Edelman is a political reporter for NBC News.

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