JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Efforts to repeal Missouri’s new eight-week abortion ban with a public vote hit a roadblock Thursday, the latest development in a fight over abortion rights that’s playing out on multiple fronts in the state.
Republican Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft told reporters that the Missouri Constitution prohibits a referendum on the sweeping abortion law because of what’s known as an “emergency clause” included in it.
Most new laws in Missouri automatically take effect on Aug. 28 of each year, as the ban on abortions at eight weeks of pregnancy will. The law includes an exception only for medical emergencies, not rape or incest.
The Republican-led Legislature, though, voted to make a section of the bill that changed parental consent laws for minors seeking abortions take effect as soon as Republican Gov. Mike Parson signed it into law.
Ashcroft, the state’s top election official, said that effectively blocks any effort to repeal the law through a public vote. He cited a provision in the constitution that prohibits referendums on “laws necessary for the immediate preservation of the public peace, health or safety.”
The law’s emergency clause states that enacting the parental-consent portion is vital “because of the need to protect the health and safety of women and their children, both unborn and born.”
The new law requires a parent or guardian giving written consent for a minor to get an abortion to first notify the other custodial parent, unless the other parent has been convicted of a violent or sexual crime, is subject to a protection order or is “habitually in an intoxicated or drugged condition.”
A similar repeal tactic was used in 2017, when opponents of a law limiting union powers submitted enough signatures to block it from taking effect. Missouri voters overwhelmingly rejected that anti-union law in 2018.
The legal dispute over the abortion law comes as the state’s only abortion clinic fights its own court battle to continue providing the service, despite a licensing dispute with the state health department.
The health department last week declined to renew the St. Louis Planned Parenthood clinic’s license to perform abortions, saying March inspections at the clinic uncovered deficiencies. The agency cited “at least one incident in which patient safety was gravely compromised.” It also cited what it called “failed surgical abortions in which women remained pregnant,” and alleged that the clinic had failed to obtain “informed consent.”
Clinic leaders say the allegations are part of an effort by an anti-abortion administration to eliminate the procedure in the state. Planned Parenthood pre-emptively sued to ensure continued abortion services.
Circuit Judge Michael Stelzer last week issued a ruling allowing the clinic to continue performing abortions as the court challenge plays out. During a Wednesday hearing, he did not indicate when he might rule on Planned Parenthood’s request for a preliminary injunction to allow abortions to continue.