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Petition to put abortion rights in Missouri constitution gets twice the signatures needed

Tori Schafer, with the ACLU of Missouri, speaks to supporters as abortion advocates turn in thousands of signatures seeking to enshrine abortion rights within the Missouri constitution
Sarah Kellogg
St. Louis Public Radio
Tori Schafer, with the ACLU of Missouri, speaks to supporters as abortion advocates turn in thousands of signatures seeking to enshrine abortion rights within the Missouri constitution

Working on a tight deadline, advocates collected signatures from around the state supporting a vote to restore the right to abortions, which are now banned in Missouri except for medical emergencies.

A petition seeking to place abortion rights in the Missouri constitution collected more than double the number of signatures needed to place the issue on the ballot.

Missourians for Constitutional Freedom, the coalition leading the effort, said supporters turned in more than 380,000 signatures to the Secretary of State’s office on Friday.

The number of signatures needed to place a proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot is roughly 171,000.

Speaking to a group of supporters at the Capitol Friday morning, Kennedy Moore with Abortion Action Missouri said they gathered signatures in all of Missouri’s 114 counties.

“That shows that Missourians in every corner of the Show Me State don't want to be subjected to abortion bans,” Moore said. “They don't want to live in a state that restricts access to and puts medical decisions in the hands of politicians.”

For a proposed amendment to make it onto the ballot, signatures must be collected by 8% of legal voters in six of Missouri’s eight congressional districts. The group said they achieved that 8% threshold in six of the eight districts, though they collected signatures in all of them.

The signatures must now be verified by the Secretary of State’s office

Tori Schafer with the ACLU of Missouri said there should not be any hiccups over the signatures in the coming weeks because “we clearly followed the law.”

“We are of course preparing for anything and we're confident that any attacks that we experienced are politically motivated and we’ll win again in court,” Schafer said.

Statewide leaders tried to derail petition drive

The turning in of the signatures comes after the proposed petitions underwent multiple lawsuits that ultimately shortened the length of time the organization had to collect signatures.

One of the lawsuits was a disagreement over the amendment’s fiscal note, which is an estimate of how much the proposed measure would cost state and local governments.

Attorney General Andrew Bailey’s office refused to approve the note created by Auditor Scott Fitzpatrick. The Attorney General’s office wanted Fitzpatrick to redo the note to say the abortion ban would cost Missouri billions of dollars.

Both a Cole County circuit judge and the Missouri Supreme Court ruled against Bailey.

Another lawsuit was over the wording of the ballot language initially issued by Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft.

The Missouri Western Court of Appeals ruled that Ashcroft’s summaries contained politically partisan language. The court also upheld, with few changes, a revised summary written by Cole County Circuit Judge Jon Beetem.

“In March of 2023, we filed this amendment to end our state's abortion ban, and immediately we were met with political attacks. State officials used the legal system to delay us from collecting signatures,” Schafer said.

Unless Ashcroft expedites the signature counting process, Missourians will likely vote on the issue in November if the issue is placed on the ballot.

The prospect of abortion rights being on the ballot spurred anti-abortion activists to try and stop people from signing the petition.

“In our Decline to Sign Campaign, Missouri Right to Life has educated and activated countless Missourians to fight the battle to ‘Keep Missouri Pro-Life!,'” Missouri Right to Life said in a statement.

The proposed amendment to restore abortion rights has led to renewed calls to make it harder to change Missouri’s constitution.

This week, a faction of Missouri Senators filibustered for more than 40 hours in an attempt to bring forward and pass a resolution that would require both a simple majority of voters and a majority of voters in each of Missouri’s eight congressional districts to pass any proposed constitutional amendment.

“Here we are today, in the midst of one of the longest filibusters that this chamber has seen this year in order to bring to fruition our efforts to protect the constitution of this state, from the abortionists who are trying to enshrine the institution of death into the constitution,” said Sen. Bill Eigel, R-Weldon Spring.

Ultimately, the filibuster ended before that resolution passed. Two weeks are left in the Missouri 2024 legislative session.

The deadline to turn in signatures for proposed constitutional amendments or state law changes is May 5.

Other groups that have turned in their signatures include one advocating for a state law change to raise the minimum wage, and another that seeks to legalize sports betting.

Sarah Kellogg is St. Louis Public Radio’s Statehouse and Politics Reporter, taking on the position in August 2021. Sarah is from the St. Louis area and even served as a newsroom intern for St. Louis Public Radio back in 2015.
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