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Abortion referendum lawsuit hearings set for Tuesday

   

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Initial hearings are scheduled for Tuesday afternoon on a pair of legal challenges to the secretary of state’s decision to reject two referendum petitions on a sweeping anti-abortion bill.

David Humphreys, businessman and GOP megadonor, filed the second lawsuit Friday in Cole County contending Jay Ashcroft, Missouri’s Republican secretary of state, acted outside his purview and the law in rejecting the referendum filed. The Committee to Protect the Rights of Victims of Rape & Incest, to which Humphreys’ donated $1 million, is also part of the lawsuit.

On Thursday, within hours of Ashcroft announcing his decision, the ACLU of Missouri filed a suit.

Both cases have been assigned to Cole County Judge Daniel Green. Hearings in both are scheduled for Tuesday at 1:30 p.m.

Last month, after Gov. Mike Parson signed HB 126 into law, Lowell Pearson on behalf of Humphrey and Sara Baker on behalf of the ACLU submitted referendum petitions to the secretary of state seeking certification for circulation.

Ashcroft announced Thursday morning that he rejected both petitions “for failure to comply with the requirements of the Missouri Constitution.”

The issue with both petitions, according to Ashcroft, is the emergency clause attached to the bill. The emergency clause resulted in a portion of the bill going into effect immediately after Parson signed it.

The provision in effect is the requirement for both parents of a minor to be notified if she seeks an abortion.

The vast majority of the provisions — banning abortion at eight weeks, along with “nestled” components to include restrictions at 14, 18, and 20 weeks should a court overturn a portion of the law, and an outright abortion ban if Roe v. Wade is overturned — will go into effect on August 28.

Both petitions contend the lone provision with the emergency clause does not actually constitute an emergency, subjecting it to an immediate passage and precluding it from a referendum.

The lawsuits also argue the secretary of state’s responsibility in reviewing the submission of a referendum petition is to “review the comments and statements of the attorney general as to form and make a final decision as to the approval or rejection of the form of the petition.”

Any other review by the state, other than as its form, does not occur until after the signatures are obtained and submitted, according to the lawsuits.

Should the ACLU or Humphreys prevail in their legal challenges, they would need to gather and submit signatures from 5 percent of legal voters in six of eight congressional districts — at least 100,126 Missourians — by August 28 to put it on the ballot.

Another referendum petition, also filed by Pearson on behalf of Humphreys, is still under review by the Secretary of State’s Office. Petition 2020-R003 excludes the portion covered by the emergency clause.