Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft has denied two referendum petitions today aimed at blocking sweeping anti-abortion legislation from becoming law. Ashcroft says the efforts are unconstitutional because part of the bill – about parental notification when a minor wants an abortion – has already become law.
“Under Supreme Court precedent, which I have to follow, it said very clearly that the referendum is not to be made to take out of action a law that has already been enacted,” Ashcroft says at a press conference in Jefferson City. “We have to follow the courts. We are a nation and a state of laws and not of men. If I make people unhappy because I do what the law says, that’s what is going to happen.”
One of the referendums was spearheaded by Republican megadonor David Humphreys, who urged the governor to veto the bill. In an email to the Kansas City Star, the Joplin businessman said he’s opposed to abortion but he supports a woman’s right to choose, particularly in rape or incest cases.
“We wanted to be very clear and very careful that we didn’t do anything that would lead to any sort of thought that it was a political decision,” says Ashcroft. “Regardless, if you say the sky is blue and the grass is green, someone will say it’s political.”
House Minority Leader Crystal Quade, D-Springfield, says nearly a century ago, the Missouri Supreme Court ruled the Legislature cannot block a bill from a referendum petition by tacking on a clause enacting the law immediately after the governor’s signature.
“Today’s refusal by Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft to do his job further demonstrates the disregard Republican elected officials have for the constitutional rights of Missourians. First, the governor signs a law to force people to remain pregnant against their will, even in cases of rape and incest. Now, the secretary of state is blocking Missouri voters from the opportunity to reject this harmful and unconstitutional law,” Quade says in a press release.
The ACLU calls Ashcroft’s move predictable and says it is assembling a lawsuit. Whether the case will be resolved by the time the rest of the law takes effect at the end of August is unclear.
The wide-ranging measure bans doctors from doing abortions on women if a fetal heartbeat is heard. Physicians who violate the law face five to fifteen years in prison. It would also forbid doctors from doing abortions if the baby would have Down syndrome or for sex or race-selective abortions. Under the bill, abortions would be allowed for medical emergencies but not rape or incest.
A third referendum in response to the anti-abortion bill is under review by Ashcroft’s office. Ashcroft, a Republican, hopes to complete that process in about one week.
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