Press "Enter" to skip to content

Two abortion bill referendum petitions rejected, third still under review

Both filers plan to challenge decision in court

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Two petitions filed seeking to give voters the final say on a sweeping anti-abortion bill have been rejected by the Missouri Secretary of State’s OfficeThe ACLU of Missouri and David Humphreys, who filed the referendum petitions, are planning separate legal challenges to the decision.

A third referendum petition filed on the same bill, though not on the full measure, is in limbo pending a legal analysis. The petitions — which require at least 100,126 signatures by August 28 to make it on the ballot — need approval from the Secretary of State’s Office before circulating. 

“Because of the responsibility of the Secretary of State’s Office to follow Missouri Supreme Court precedent and the constitution, we have no other avenue but to reject Referendum 1 and Referendum 2 for failure to comply with the requirements of the Missouri Constitution,” Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft told reporters Thursday.  

The issue at hand, 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 Gov. Mike Parson signed it last month.

The provision currently in effect is the requirement for both parents to be notified of a minor seeking 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.

In a letter to Ashcroft, Lowell Pearson, who filed two of the petitions on behalf of Humphreys, wrote, “[T]he emergency clause in House Bill 126 cannot lawfully be read to preempt or override the referendum right of the People. Just as the courts must ‘zealously guard’ that right (see Boeving), so must the executive branch and its elected officials.”

Last month, the ACLU of Missouri and Humphreys, a prominent Republican donor, both submitted referendum petitions on HB 126. The third referendum petition — also submitted by Humphreys through Pearson — does not include the provision already in effect.

The decision to reject the two petitions was made by the Secretary of State’s Office based on its review of the law and case precedent. The third petition is still under review and Ashcroft “hopes” to have a determination by the end of next week. 

“This move is so predictable, we’ve already assembled our suit to require the Secretary of State to put aside his anti-abortion agenda and do his job by certifying the referendum,” Tony Rothert, acting executive director of ACLU of Missouri, said in a statement. 

Pearson told The Missouri Times he plans on filing a separate lawsuit.

Courts in the past have overruled what constitutes an emergency and allowed a referendum on a measure with a provision already in effect. Ashcroft acknowledged the rulings, pointing out it was the court’s determination and not the secretary of state’s in each case.

Ashcroft noted he was not allowed to make a determination if the provision actually constituted an emergency.

“The court clearly states the determination about whether or not an emergency clause is proper or not is a matter for the courts,” said Ashcroft. “It would be inappropriate for me to make a judicial determine like that.”

Watch Ashcroft’s full press conference below:

This article is part of a periodic update on the initiative petition process. Other stories in the series can be found here