‘Quitting isn’t an option’: Act now to put repeal of Missouri abortion ban on the ballot

For decades, abortion rights opponents have argued that the issue should have been decided democratically instead of by “unelected judges.”

Now, of course, they are determined to keep a referendum that might repeal Missouri’s new abortion ban off the 2020 ballot. And as President Donald Trump remakes the Supreme Court, those “unelected judges” are looking better all the time.

To get a referendum question on Missouri’s near-total abortion ban on next year’s ballot, opponents need to collect 100,000 signatures. They have to do this before the new law takes effect on August 28. But they couldn’t even start collecting signatures until after an appeals court ruled in their favor on Monday. (The court said Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft must approve ballot language within 15 days. But the state could still appeal the decision to the Missouri Supreme Court.)

On Sunday, the ACLU launched their effort anyway — not yet collecting signatures, but organizing the petition drive, so that as soon as ballot language is approved, volunteers can get right to work. Missourians who want to repeal this extreme law, which does not allow abortion after eight weeks of pregnancy even in cases of rape and incest, have no time to spare.

At the Sunday kickoff event in Kansas City — one of five across the state — an obstetrician, Dr. Mae Winchester, told the crowd gathered in a downtown bar about a recent patient of hers with cervical cancer who would not have been able to get an abortion if the ban had already been in effect.

“This law would have killed her,” she said, because though it does make exceptions in medical emergencies, “she wasn’t dying that day,” so her condition wouldn’t have qualified as such.

Missouri state Rep. Judy Morgan thanked Planned Parenthood “for standing up to that weasel Randall Williams,” director of the state health department, in refusing to perform a second, medically unnecessary pelvic exam on patients 72 hours before an abortion. On that one issue, the state backed down after criticism while still trying to close the state’s only abortion provider, a Planned Parenthood clinic in St. Louis.

Morgan, a Kansas City Democrat, said abortion rights supporters “can repeal every single bleeping word” of the effective ban, which outlaws the procedure so early in pregnancy that many women still don’t know they are pregnant. “We’re sad, we’re hurt, we’re angry, but quitting isn’t an option.”

Among the several dozen potential volunteers who came to the event was Barbara Beier, who has collected signatures as a volunteer several times since 2016. “I was heartbroken” by the ban, she said. To her, Republican lawmakers in Jefferson City are using the abortion issue “to bring out voters. They don’t care about the issue and they certainly don’t care about the people it affects,” which is why “there’s so little support for children” once they’re no longer in utero.

Beier, who works full time, is proud to have collected the second-highest number of signatures for last year’s Clean Missouri ethics reform initiative. “I’m just an ordinary person, and I want ordinary people to know they can make a difference” in this way.

On Monday, the Missouri Court of Appeals ruled that Ashcroft was “without authority” in rejecting referendum applications to put the abortion law on the ballot. Ashcroft had said that couldn’t happen because one part of the law, on parental notification, is already in effect.

The ACLU argued that the emergency clause that Republicans used to make that one aspect of the bill effective immediately was invoked “not because of an immediate need to preserve the public peace, health, or safety,” as the law requires, “but rather in order to defeat any attempt to refer the bill for voter approval or rejection under the fundamental right of referendum.” The court almost immediately ruled in their favor.

If you think “ordinary people,” should have a say, now is the time to get involved.