Health Care

Abortion rights backers aim for Missouri ballot

They face big hurdles, but the ballot measure is the most plausible path to change red state abortion restrictions.
Democratic voters were fired up after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)

Missouri voters could decide whether to add abortion rights to the state constitution in 2024 if supporters of a newly filed constitutional amendment can gather enough signatures to qualify for the ballot.

Missourians for Constitutional Freedom filed 11 versions of the petition, all with slight differences, with Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft’s (R) office.

Each would roll back the state’s ban on nearly all abortions, which took effect last year when the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. One would allow the legislature to regulate abortion starting at 24 weeks into the pregnancy.

All eleven versions declare a “fundamental right to reproductive freedom.”

The petitions were filed by a St. Louis-area physician, who submitted them Wednesday. 

In a statement, Vanessa Wellbery, vice president of policy and advocacy for Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri, said her organization “is not directly involved” with the filings but looks “forward to exploring all avenues and opportunities to restore access to abortion for all Missourians.”

Campaign Life Missouri lobbyist Samuel Lee told the Springfield News-Leader that the proposals are “radical” and something he “would expect to see in California or New York.”

Filing a petition is just the first step in the process of getting an initiative on the 2024 ballot. It also must clear review by Attorney General Andrew Bailey’s (R) office, be formally accepted by Ashcroft’s office and attract more than 171,000 signatures across the state’s eight congressional districts.

Even before petitions are circulated, abortion rights backers face politicians with incentives to block their path: Ashcroft, said to be eyeing a bid to succeed term-limited Gov. Mike Parson (R) in 2024, is an outspoken abortion opponent who has barred past ballot measures on technicalities. Bailey, appointed to office earlier this year, will face a competitive GOP primary as he seeks to keep his job.

Still, the ballot measure is the most plausible path abortion rights supporters have to change the law in Missouri, a state where Republicans are firmly in control. Supporters hope to emulate successes in Kentucky, Kansas and Montana, all red states where abortion restrictions failed at the ballot box in the last year.

In Kansas, voters in the August primary rejected an amendment that would have clarified there is no right to an abortion in the state constitution by a whopping 18-point margin.