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Abortion referendum lawsuits back in court next week with amended petitions


JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — A Cole County judge gave those challenging the rejection of a pair of referendum petitions the option of submitting a new request for relief due to technical problems with the arguments.

Attorneys for David Humphreys and the ACLU of Missouri — unlikely allies on policy debates — will amend the lawsuits to seek a writ of mandamus by close of business Thursday. A hearing on the new filings will be held Monday at 1:30 p.m.

“We will be asking for the exact same relief,” said Lowell Pearson, an attorney for Humphreys. “The papers will have different legal mumbo jumbo in them but will be substantively the same.”

The lawsuits seek to overturn Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft’s decision to reject two referendum petitions which sought to send a sweeping anti-abortion bill to a vote of the people. Not long after the hearing concluded, Ashcroft rejected a third petition; Pearson told The Missouri Times he might include the third referendum petition in his amended lawsuit.

Last month, after Gov. Mike Parson signed HB 126 into law, Pearson on behalf of Humphreys and Sara Baker on behalf of the ACLU of Missouri submitted referendum petitions to the secretary of state seeking certification for circulation. Pearson also filed another petition which excluded the portion of the law that included an emergency clause.

Ashcroft announced last week his rejection of both petitions “for failure to comply with the requirements of the Missouri Constitution.” The third petition was rejected for the same reasons Tuesday afternoon.

The issue with the 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.

The two lawsuits sought a temporary restraining order while the merits of the legal challenge were determined.

An attorney for the state called the requested relief “inappropriate” and said it should have sought a “writ of mandamus.” Cole County Judge Daniel Green agreed with the assessment and gave the parties who filed the lawsuits the option of amending the petitions or dismissing the case to file anew; they chose to amend.

Pearson called it a  “very technical distinction in the law.” Even with a limited time frame, he told reporters he’s not worried about running out of time or the change causing a delay.

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. Signatures cannot be gathered before the Secretary of State’s Office approves the referendum petition for circulation.