JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Voters could get to decide if abortion should be legal again in Missouri next year.
That possibility has lawmakers playing the blame game after a big priority for Republicans this session fell short of the finish line. The legislation would make it harder for voters to change the state’s constitution by increasing the number of voters needed to approve an initiative petition. Without it, some GOP members worry abortion will become legal again.
“I think the Senate should be held accountable for allowing abortion to return to Missouri,” House Speaker Dean Plocher, R-Des Peres, said. “I think abortion will be allowed because they will put ballot candy in and if you don’t pass IP [initiative petition] reform, it will (pass) 50% plus one. I don’t believe in changing the constitution that easily.”
After becoming the first state in the country to outlaw abortion following the overturning of Roe v. Wade last summer, there’s a chance Missouri voters could have the say to restore abortion rights in the state.
“They [Republicans] will deal with the wrath of a lot of women across this country and this state who feel like they’ve been not listened too and ignored and not having the ability to have autonomy over their body,” Senate Minority Leader John Rizzo, D-Independence, said.
Missouri’s ban only allows exceptions in medical emergencies, but not for rape or incest. Back in March, 11 petitions were filed with the Secretary of State’s office to roll back Missouri’s ban on abortion by adding protections to the constitution.
“It’s an opportunity for us to get our rights back if the initiative goes to the ballot box, but I think the most important piece of that discussion is exactly that the Republicans don’t like what the citizens continue to tell them to do and they are saying it out loud now,” House Minority Leader Crystal Quade, D-Springfield, said.
Senate Leadership saying on the final day of session, raising the threshold to amend the constitution will be a priority next year.
“The fact that we didn’t pass it this year, puts more pressure on us,” Senate President Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, said. “There’s no doubt about it, but it does nothing to change the outcome of whether abortion can be enshrined in our constitution or not.”
Currently, it takes a simple majority to approve a referendum, meaning more votes for than against. Both chambers passed its own version of initiative petition overhaul. In the final days of session, efforts to increase the threshold to 57% could not get through the Senate.
“Basically, making it so nothing could ever pass on the ballot again, I’m not really in favor of that,” Rowden said. “I’m not prideful enough to say we get it right all the time.”
The initiative petition process is how recreational and medical marijuana and Medicaid expansion was approved by voters. If the General Assembly would have approved the legislation, voters would have had the final say on increasing the threshold.
“IP dying was a good thing for us,” Rizzo said. “We were happy to do that. We probably would have filibustered if it came back anyway.”
The 11 versions of the proposed constitutional amendment to roll back Missouri’s ban on abortion was filed by a St. Louis doctor on behalf of a political action committee called Missourians for Constitutional Freedom. The proposals would change the constitution to say “government shall not infringe upon a person’s fundamental right to reproductive freedom.”
Earlier this month, the Missouri ACLU filed a lawsuit against the state for holding up the constitutional amendments, as supporters wait for the ballot summary to be released by the Secretary of State’s office. The problem is, the attorney general is pushing for a price tag on the proposal that is much higher than what the state auditor estimated.
According to the lawsuit, Attorney General Andrew Bailey disagrees with State Auditor Scott Fitzpatrick’s cost for the referendum. Due to Bailey refusing to sign off on Fitzpatrick’s fiscal note, Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft can’t give petitioners approval to start gathering signatures.
In order to put the question on the ballot in 2024, supporters need signatures from 8% of voters in six of the state’s eight congressional districts. The lawsuit states the ballot summary was supposed to be completed by May 1.
Last week, a Cole County judge scheduled a bench trial in the case for next month.