JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (KMIZ)
After the state submits its final proposed order next Monday, a Cole County Circuit Court judge will decide whether the ballot summary for initiative petitions on abortion access are written fairly.
Lawyers for both the Missouri ACLU and the Missouri Secretary of State's Office gathered in the Cole County Courthouse on Monday, joined by Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft and other politicians fighting over Missouri's access to abortion.
ACLU lawyers argued that Ashcroft's version of the ballot language does not accurately reflect the petitions and instead shows his personal beliefs. The ACLU also claims these ongoing legal battles are only meant to stall the petition in attempt to prevent it from getting on the ballot.
"Missourians don't need the secretary of state's description of what he thinks abortion is. You say the word abortion. Missourians know what it is, and they have their own view," said ACLU lawyer Tony Rothert.
However, Ashcroft and the state's lawyer stand by the summary.
"The statute requires me to write language that would clearly and concisely summarize what it is," Ashcroft said. "It doesn't matter whether or not that is a true statement or not. I have to follow the law."
The hearing is the latest in a series of legal battles over initiative petitions that ask Missouri voters to weigh in on abortion access. Monday's hearing in the Cole County Circuit Court, presided over by Judge Jon Beteem, will go over the secretary of state's ballot summary.
"The Secretary has summarized these six straight-forward initiatives, each of which would secure a right to access a broad array of reproductive health care available elsewhere throughout the United States, to appear radical and risky," the ACLU's brief prepared for Monday's hearing reads.
After Roe v. Wade was overturned in June 2022, Missouri became the first state to outlaw abortions with exceptions for the mother's health.
In June, Ashcroft told ABC 17 News he does not support the petition.
“As an elected official and secretary of state, I've got to follow the law and there are initiative petitions filed that I agree with and initiative petitions filed that I disagree with," Ashcroft said. "But the law is clear about what my duties are.”
The petition needs signatures from 5% of legal voters in 6-of-8 voting districts to get on the statewide ballot. More information about the initiative petition process can be found online.
Republicans made initiative petition reform a priority for the past few legislative sessions, but never got a bill across the finish line. It takes a simple majority of voters for an initiative petition to pass. Republican bills would have changed that to 57% or more.