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Missouri appeals court considers how to word abortion petition on ballot


Arguments continued Monday over a petition that would allow more access to abortion in Missouri than before Roe v. Wade was overturned.

Last month, Cole County Judge Jon Beteem rewrote the ballot summary language. Now, Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft and Attorney General Andrew Bailey want the Appeals Court in the Western District of Missouri to overrule that judge's decision to rewrite the ballot language.

The initiative petition aims to codify abortion rights in the Missouri Constitution. There are 11 total rights it outlines, including access to abortion, birth control and miscarriage management. The petition also outlines parameters for each of those rights. Several versions of the petition are filed and available for viewing on the Secretary of State's website.

Ashcroft and Bailey argue these petitions would make it impossible for the state to enforce any restrictions on abortions.

Missouri ACLU attorney Anthony Rothert said in court, while representing the woman who filed the petitions, that these petitions allow for more access to abortion than what was legal before Roe v. Wade was overturned. The state's lawyers pointed to that in support of their own argument.

"They're not being truthful with the voting public, and the language that's being used in the Secretary's summaries come directly from Missouri law and Missouri case law, thus it is fair and accurate," Bailey said.

On the other side, lawyers with Missouri ACLU representing the woman who filed the petitions were largely happy with the language written by the Cole County judge.

The ACLU said these lawsuits are an attempt to prevent the petitions at every corner, from what they say is unfair ballot language to delaying the ability to start collecting signatures.

"We should have had one by May 1 and should have been able to begin collecting signatures then, and here we are in the cold weather, still fighting for a fair summary," Rothert said.

A decision is expected as soon as this week. But regardless of what the panel of appeals court judges decide, it's very likely this case will be heard again in the Missouri Supreme Court.

The ballot language as rewritten by Cole County Judge Jon Beteem as laid out in the court decision.
The ballot language as written by Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft before it was changed.
Courtesy: Secretary of State's website

In order to be put on the ballot, the petition needs signatures from 5% of legal voters in six-of-eight voting districts. 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. Currently, it takes a simple majority of voters for an initiative petition to pass. Republican bills would have changed that to 57% or more.

Article Topic Follows: Missouri Politics

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Hannah Falcon

Hannah joined the ABC 17 News Team from Houston, Texas, in June 2021. She graduated from Texas A&M University. She was editor of her school newspaper and interned with KPRC in Houston. Hannah also spent a semester in Washington, D.C., and loves political reporting.


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