Republican effort to restore abortion rights in Missouri folds

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — A Republican-led campaign to restore abortion rights in Missouri ended Thursday, clearing the path for a competing, more sweeping constitutional amendment to get on the state’s November ballot.

“Having two initiatives on the ballot would create confusion and potentially split the vote,” Missouri Women and Family Research Fund Executive Director Jamie Corley said in a statement. “No one wants that, so we have decided to suspend our campaign to amend Missouri’s abortion law.”

Corley’s withdrawal means a rival campaign backed by Planned Parenthood, the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri and other abortion-rights groups can move forward without competition. The ballot initiative by Missourians for Constitutional Freedom would enshrine abortion in the state constitution while allowing lawmakers to regulate it after viability.

Both campaigns had wanted their measures to go straight to voters after a law passed by Missouri’s Republican-led Legislature barring almost all abortions took effect in 2022. Only abortions in cases of “medical emergencies” are legal in Missouri now.

Missouri’s Republican lawmakers appear uninterested in relaxing the law. A Democratic effort to allow for exceptions in cases of rape and incest was voted down along party lines Wednesday in the GOP-led Senate.

“Every Republican in the room voted against exceptions for victims of rape and incest,” Senate Democratic Minority Leader John Rizzo said Thursday. “That’s how extreme they’ve become, and that is why the only recourse for everyday Missourians is through the initiative petition process.”

Voters in seven states — California, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Montana, Ohio and Vermont — have sided with abortion rights supporters on ballot measures. Florida’s Republican attorney general on Wednesday asked the state Supreme Court to keep a proposed abortion rights amendment off the ballot.

Under Corley’s proposal, abortions would have been allowed for any reason up until 12 weeks into pregnancy in Missouri. Abortions in cases of rape, incest and fatal fetal abnormalities would be allowed until viability.

Corley had pitched her initiative petition as a moderate alternative that could pass in Missouri, where all statewide elected officials are Republican and abortion-rights groups hold huge sway in state politics.

She said she’s not joining the rival abortion-rights campaign but wants that initiative petition to be approved.

“I hope it passes,” she said. “I think they have a very, very tough campaign ahead. I am pretty worried about it.”

Nonetheless, the campaign appears hopeful. Missourians for Constitutional Freedom spokeswoman Mallory Schwarz in a Thursday statement said the campaign has “growing momentum.” Advocates earlier this week kicked off signature gathering events statewide.

But supporters say that even without a competing ballot measure, the remaining abortion-rights campaign still faces steep obstacles.

Missourians for Constitutional Freedom’s campaign was delayed for months in a court fight with Republican Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft, who is running for governor. GOP lawmakers are trying to raise the threshold for approving constitutional amendments before the November ballot, an effort motivated in part by the abortion-rights campaigns. And an anti-abortion campaign called Missouri Stands with Women launched last month with the direct goal of torpedoing any abortion-rights measure.

“Our coalition was prepared to inform Missourians on why they should decline to sign both pro-abortion petitions,” Missouri Stands with Women spokeswoman Stephanie Bell said in a statement. “So now we will be working twice as hard to defeat one petition instead of two, while pro-abortion activists remain divided on the issue.”

Initiative petition groups must collect at least 172,000 voter signatures by May 5 to make it on November’s ballot, another huge undertaking.

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