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Pro-life groups continue to engage with “Decline to Sign” efforts

Supporters of abortion access still need signatures to place proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot

As a May deadline approaches to collect enough signatures in support of a proposed amendment to alter Missouri’s constitution to create a right to legal abortion, pro-life groups continue to engage in education, prayer and peaceful witness as part of a “Decline to Sign” campaign.

Missourians for Constitutional Freedom, a group of organizations in support of abortion access that is behind the ballot initiative, needs to collect at least 8% of legal voters in six of the state’s eight congressional districts by May 5. The group was still collecting signatures as of late April.

The proposed amendment would allow abortions until fetal viability (typically around 22-24 weeks of pregnancy), with an exception for the “life and physical or mental health” of the mother. If enough signatures are collected, the measure will be placed on the ballot later in 2024 to be voted on by Missouri citizens.

Missouri Stands with Women is a coalition of pro-life organizations that formed in January to oppose the ballot initiative. Those groups include the Missouri Catholic Conference, the public policy arm of the state’s bishops, Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America and ThriVe Nation, a St. Louis-based pregnancy resource organization. They and other pro-life groups are urging Missouri citizens to decline signing the petition.

The archdiocesan Respect Life Apostolate also has helped organize educational meetings, conducted a “90 Prayer Days for Life” campaign to pray for a defeat of the initiative, offered homily resources to priests and deacons, and promoted parishes that organized “Decline to Sign” life chains in March and April.

“Everything we’re doing through education, prayer and public peaceful witness, it’s bearing fruit,” Respect Life Apostolate director Mary Varni said. “We want to encourage people to however they feel called to participate — to educate, pray, witness or preach if they are clergy — and to encourage them to keep going, because we still again have that fighting chance to protect Missouri women and the preborn.”

Longtime pro-life lobbyist Deacon Samuel Lee, who serves as president of Missouri Stands with Women, noted several ambiguities in proposed amendment’s language. “Our laws should be clear and if they’re not clear, that’s a problem,” he said. “It could be years before the law is decided (through the courts) and that is a bad way to amend the constitution. That should give voters pause about whether they should sign the petition and put it on the ballot.”

The language purports to allow regulation of abortion after viability, but it also requires a broad mental health exception, Deacon Lee said, “which the legislature might be unable to define. It’s a broad health exception.”

The amendment also would create more than just a right to abortion but also broadly cover reproductive health care, including prenatal care, childbirth, postpartum care, birth control and miscarriage care.

The language says: “No person shall be penalized, prosecuted, or otherwise subjected to adverse action based on their actual, potential, perceived, or alleged pregnancy outcomes, including but not limited to miscarriage, stillbirth, or abortion. Nor shall any person assisting a person in exercising their right to reproductive freedom with that person’s consent be penalized, prosecuted, or otherwise subjected to adverse action for doing so.”

Deacon Lee noted that because of the ambiguity in the language, it likely would require the interpretation of a court. “Any regulation of reproductive health care would be subject to and at risk of being struck down by this constitutional amendment, because it would not allow medical malpractice actions from other things like childbirth — not just abortion,” he said.

Deacon Lee also noted there is an important distinction to make between a constitutional amendment and a bill passed by the legislature. “This would alter or inject into our constitution a right to abortion that the state legislature would have difficulty overcoming,” he said.

He cautioned Catholics against signing the petition with the intention of voting against it later. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that “sin is a personal act. Moreover, we have a responsibility for the sins committed by others when we cooperate in them: by participating directly and voluntarily in them; by ordering, advising, praising, or approving them; by not disclosing or not hindering them when we have an obligation to do so; and by protecting evil-doers” (CCC #1868).

“It is wrong to, in effect, put someone else into the near occasion of sin so that they can vote for it,” Deacon Lee said.

The Missouri bishops also urged people not to support the ballot initiative, stating that the amendment would remove long standing health and safety standards for women and do nothing to reduce or eliminate the underlying social causes for abortion.

“We encourage all Catholics and people of good will to not sign any petition that would put this amendment on the ballot,” the bishops said.

>> Resources

Missouri Stands with Women: mostandswithwomen.org

Respect Life Apostolate: stlrespectlife.org

Missouri Catholic Conference: mocatholic.org/abortion

Proposed ballot language: stlreview.com/3UwWXC4

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