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New 2024 ballot initiative could upend pro-life legislation

While Missouri was celebrated by the pro-life community for being one of the first states to outlaw most abortions, a proposed ballot initiative could jeopardize the state’s pro-life legislation.

In March, several proposals were made to amend Missouri’s constitution to restore abortion rights. The effort is backed by a group called Missourians for Constitutional Freedom, which has filed 11 proposed abortion questions for the 2024 ballot.

Missouri became the first state in 2019 to enact a “trigger ban” that would outlaw most abortions (with an exception for medical emergencies) in the event that Roe v. Wade was overturned. That happened on June 24, 2022, with the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which returned decisions on abortion laws to individual states.

Missouri Secretary of State John Ashcroft has withheld approving the language of the proposed amendment as he awaits a fiscal summary. Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey has refused to sign off on the abortion initiative’s cost estimate, arguing that it is more than the initial estimate given. The fiscal summary is being contested to the Missouri Supreme Court.

If the ballot summary is approved, Missourians for Constitutional Freedom will begin a signature collecting campaign. They will need the signatures of 8% of legal voters in six of the state’s eight congressional districts by the May 5, 2024 deadline. If the group collects enough signatures, the measure will be on the November 2024 ballot to be voted on by Missouri citizens.

“This ballot initiative could lead to a massive change on a grand scale that Missouri has never seen before,” said Deacon Sam Lee, a longtime pro-life lobbyist with Campaign Life Missouri. “It would put pregnancy centers and pro-life agencies at a disadvantage because they would be competing against a totally legalized and unrestricted ability to have abortion in the state.”

Last August, Kansas citizens voted on a pro-life ballot measure — the Value Them Both Amendment — and failed to pass it. If it had passed, a right to abortion would no longer be in Kansas’ constitution.

Kansas was subject to a large pro-abortion media campaign during the Value Them Both Amendment debate. Jamie Morris, the executive director of the Missouri Catholic Conference, closely watched the vote in Kansas. He worries that Missouri could be susceptible to the same fate.

“You are leaving abortion policy up to what amounts to a media campaign,” Morris said. “There is always a concern, no matter how pro-life a state Missouri is or has been. Our success depends on how the ballot language is advertised and how successful both we and the other side are at getting our message out.”

In preparation for the upcoming petition and potential 2024 vote, the four Catholic dioceses of Missouri have formed a coalition with other pro-life leaders and Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, a national advocacy group. Together, the coalition has begun gathering data and developing unified messaging to face this initiative.

The coalition will be working closely with Sue Libel, Susan B. Anthony’s Midwest regional director. She noted that the proposed Missouri ballot initiative is part of a nationwide trend.

Libel wrote in an email that, “Groups like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Planned Parenthood are flooding states like Missouri with millions of dollars to confuse and deceive the people, enshrine brutal late-term abortion on demand in constitutions, and destroy the rights of parents to protect their daughters. It is crucial that voters understand what is at stake in the ACLU’s war on women, children and parents, and we are committed to working with Missouri pro-life leaders and exposing their extreme agenda in Missouri and nationwide.”

The Missouri Catholic Conference is advising Catholics to not sign any petitions and to stay informed.

“We have good pro-life legislators and good pro-life laws here,” Morris said. “But that could all be undone very quickly if we enshrine abortion rights in the constitution.”

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