Guest Commentary

Jay Ashcroft is blocking the people’s voice on Missouri’s abortion ban

Hundreds protest Missouri abortion ban at Plaza in Kansas City

Hundreds of demonstrators gathered Sunday at the Country Club Plaza in Kansas City to protest a near-total ban on abortions passed by Missouri lawmakers.
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Hundreds of demonstrators gathered Sunday at the Country Club Plaza in Kansas City to protest a near-total ban on abortions passed by Missouri lawmakers.

In an egregious abuse of power, Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft is denying Missourians our constitutional rights.

House Bill 126, which bans abortion after eight weeks — before many women even know they’re pregnant, and with no exception for rape or incest — was signed into law on May 24. It will take effect Aug. 28, and the American Civil Liberties Union has only until that date to gather more than 100,000 signatures to place a question that would overturn the law on the 2020 ballot. But Ashcroft is refusing to certify the ballot language so that people can start collecting signatures.

In 2014, at age 43, I learned that I was nine weeks pregnant. Because of my age, my doctor recommended an ultrasound with a specialist at 11 weeks. I was told that I was lucky to get scheduled with a specialist that quickly.

At that appointment, I learned that our daughter had a genetic disorder. Devastated by this news, I sought out medical advice about the risks to me and to our child. After seeing multiple genetic experts, I decided to wait until week 18, when an ultrasound would provide more information about our daughter’s health. The 49-day wait was excruciating.

When the 18-week ultrasound finally arrived, the results were as favorable as they could be, but taking the pregnancy to term still came with a significant amount of risk. I held on to hope and decided to proceed with the pregnancy.

If Missouri’s eight-week abortion ban had been in effect in 2014, there would have been zero choice for me.

Regardless of my financial or emotional ability to care for a child with a genetic disorder, or my willingness to risk my own health to try to have a child, this high-risk pregnancy would have been forced on to me and my family by the state.

All women and families deserve to make this most intimate and private choice in their lives by themselves, on their own terms. The legislature passed this bill with no regard for the families of Missouri, and now Ashcroft is blocking voters’ ability to take back control of our own bodies.

Life is a series of choices. I made mine and chose to continue my pregnancy. For reasons unknown and inexplicable, I went into premature labor at 21 weeks and lost my wanted pregnancy.

I think a lot about the choice I made to try to carry to term. I think about how I chose to risk my health to do so. If I hadn’t had those choices, I would have felt paralyzed by this pregnancy, afraid even to learn the risks and options — because of the fear that I would be prosecuted as a criminal if I sought an abortion to protect myself or spare my child pain.

No, I didn’t have an abortion to terminate this pregnancy, but I have had an abortion in the past. I deeply empathize with and support women who have made these difficult decisions.

I am the best person to make choices about my body. Politicians are not. We, the voters, should have a choice if we want Missouri’s extreme abortion ban to go into effect. The Missouri Constitution clearly states that the people shall have 90 days to bring a referendum — not that the secretary of state should rob voters of more than 52 of those days. Yet Ashcroft is refusing to certify ballot language, and therefore the gathering of signatures cannot proceed. I feel certain he’s going to drag his feet until we don’t have enough time.

Regardless of how you feel about abortion, you should be outraged by this illegal and unethical behavior from the person who is supposed be an impartial facilitator of our elections. You should want the freedom to make your own choices for your family and for your state.

Tell Jay Ashcroft to certify the referendum language immediately so the people of Missouri can vote on this issue. And even if he doesn’t, please get registered to vote. We must hold our elected officials accountable.

Johanna Fisher is a product designer and an advocate for immigrants’, LGBTQ and womens’ rights. She lives in Kansas City.