Two groups are suing Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft for his handling of an attempt to block new abortion regulations. The American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri and the No Bans on Choice Committee say Ashcroft refused to issue the ballot language needed to start collecting signatures for a public vote. In a press call on Thursday, representatives of the groups say Ashcroft robbed Missourians of 78 days by giving abortion rights advocates 14 days to collect 100,000 signatures.
“We had to face reality and we know that we can’t ask our volunteers in good faith to go after this impossible task of getting this many signatures in time,” says Robin Utz with the No Bans on Choice Committee. “Missouri’s Constitution is clear on the right to referendum – the people have 90 days to the gather signatures to put any law passed by the legislature up to a vote.”
Utz says she has not been a politically involved person in Missouri, but the issue is deeply personal to her. She had been trying for four years to get pregnant. In July 2016, she and her husband successfully pulled off their plans to have a family.
At a 21-week routine anatomy scan, Utz says they found out that their daughter, Grace Pearl, had a fatal fetal anomaly that would not develop the baby’s kidneys and lungs.
“Our doctors showed us in ultrasounds that it would be 100% fatal for her. This (referendum effort) matters so much,” Utz says. “People like me, would not be able to carry out humane acts for their very wanted children in the future with this ban. I would not have been able to have had an abortion and spared my daughter agony under this ban. I am not one of the statistical probabilities of why people even get an abortion in this state in every reason.”
She and her husband began testifying on a variety of different bills, including House Bill 126. The legislation, with many of the provisions taking effect next week, would ban abortions around eight weeks of pregnancy. Some medical emergencies are exceptions but not rape or incest.
At the State Fair last week, Ashcroft told Missourinet the ACLU did not file the referendum request in a timely manner. He said they could have filed the request before the law went into effect, which he said would have changed how the way his office approached the referendum. Ashcroft also said the petition took more investigation to make sure his office was following the law.
“The same organization (the ACLU) that was saying that I wasn’t listening to the voice of the people, was trying to stop me from having the statutorily-mandated 15 day comment period for the people of Missouri to comment on the referendums. By the end of that 15 day period, we had over 1,100 comments,” said Ashcroft.
In response to the lawsuit, Ashcroft’s office provided this statement:
“I am saddened in our society today, that frequently when organizations lose, their normal response is to whine and claim that the rules should not apply to them,” he said.
Under HB 126, physicians who violate the law would 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. Additionally, the legislation requires both parents to be notified if a minor child wants an abortion.
Some Republicans in the Missouri Legislature have called the legislation the boldest and most comprehensive pro-life bill in the country.
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