Three referendum petitions that would seek to repeal Missouri’s new abortion law have been rejected, while Planned Parenthood has been granted a preliminary injunction, allowing the clinic to continue offering abortions.
Missorui Secretary of State John R. Ashcroft rejected two of the petitions because of an emergency clause that was placed in HB 126, also known as the Missouri Stands for the Unborn Act. The law’s provision to require a second custodial parent to be notified when a minor is seeking an abortion went into effect immediately when Gov. Mike Parson signed the bill in May. Ashcroft said that while a referendum petition is a constitutional right, the state Constitution, as well as several Supreme Court rulings, have noted that this right doesn’t extend to laws that have already gone into effect.
“Because the legislature approved HB126 and its emergency clause with the constitutionally required two-thirds vote of both houses of the legislature, HB126 may not be referred to the people,” Ashcroft said in a statement following a June 6 press conference.
A third petition was later rejected. “A small number of state constitutions provide an option to refer a portion of a law to the people for a vote, but Missouri does not have that option,” Ashcroft said in a statement June 11.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri is behind one of the rejected petitions. Tony Rothert, acting executive director of the ACLU of Missouri, said Ashcroft “is trying to deprive Missourians’ of their right to weigh in on the abortion question with a vote.” Joplin businessman and conservative donor David Humphreys is behind the other two referendum petitions. He is supporting efforts to overturn the law, including a recent donation of $1 million to a political action committee.
Both the ACLU and Humphreys have filed lawsuits challenging the secretary of state’s decision. Cole County Circuit Judge Daniel Green ruled that they cannot seek a temporary restraining order or preliminary injunction. However, he gave them the option of amending their lawsuits or dismissing them and filing new lawsuits, where they could attempt to seek a “writ of mandamus” to compel the secretary of state to accept the referendum petitions. Attorneys for both parties have agreed to amend their lawsuits.
More than 100,000 signatures (five percent of voters in six of Missouri’s eight Congressional districts) would need to be collected by Aug. 28. If that happens, the law would be blocked per the Missouri Constitution until voters have a chance to vote on it in the 2020 general election.
Meanwhile, Planned Parenthood in St. Louis was granted a preliminary injunction, allowing it to continue to perform abortions as the fate of its abortion facility license, which was to expire at the end of the day May 31. The order notes that the Department of Health and Senior Services must make a decision whether to renew Planned Parenthood’s license “without undue delay but no later than June 21.”
Reproductive Health Services of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region filed a lawsuit against the state May 28 in St. Louis Circuit Court. It alleges that the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services is attempting to shut down the abortion clinic by “unlawfully conditioning” a decision on its license renewal application. Health department director Dr. Randall Williams and Gov. Mike Parson also were named as defendants in the suit.
As part of the renewal application process, the health department is seeking to interview seven physicians that have worked at the clinic as part of its investigation. Five of those doctors have refused to be interviewed. Planned Parenthood has said that it has no power to compel those doctors to speak with investigators as they are not directly employed by the clinic.
Planned Parenthood in St. Louis, located in the Central West End, is the only abortion clinic in Missouri. If it loses its license, Missouri would become the first state without an operating abortion clinic since the 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision. Non abortion-related services would still be offered at the clinic.
Regardless of whether the St. Louis clinic has a license to perform abortions, “It doesn’t mean that Missourians aren’t seeking abortions,” said Tyler McClay of the Missouri Catholic Conference. “We have to continue to witness to the value of life. And that’s what HB 126 is trying to change … that we ought to be protecting lives in the womb. That’s the ongoing witness that we have to get across.”
Check stlouisreview.com for updates to this developing story.