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Missouri Republicans Want to Enshrine Abortion Ban in State Constitution Amid Ballot Push

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By Kacen Bayless

(The Kansas City Star) — As Missouri abortion rights groups mount a campaign to overturn the state’s abortion ban, Republican lawmakers are weighing legislation that would enshrine the ban in the state constitution. online news

A constitutional amendment, filed by Rep. Justin Sparks, a Wildwood Republican, would add the language from the strict abortion ban to the state constitution, an attempt to block the abortion rights campaign or future efforts to legalize abortion.

It would also prohibit lawmakers from adding exceptions to the ban, such as for rape and incest, unless approved by voters through future amendments to the constitution.

If passed by both chambers of the General Assembly, the legislation would be placed in front of voters in November or at an earlier election if called by Gov. Mike Parson, an anti-abortion Republican. An identical measure was voted out of a Senate committee earlier this month.

The Republican-led effort could result in two competing statewide votes on abortion this year: A vote to overturn the ban and a vote to enshrine the ban. Whichever measure receives the most votes would supersede the other.

“What we’re talking about is abortion — the voluntary termination of a unique human life that, left otherwise alone, would grow into a(n) adult human being,” Sparks said during a hearing over his legislation late Tuesday evening. “I would like to give the voters a chance to clearly and directly voice their opinion.”

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The push comes as a coalition of abortion rights groups called Missourians for Constitutional Freedom is seeking to place on the ballot a constitutional amendment that would overturn the ban. The coalition has raised more than $4 million and supporters are gathering signatures across the state.

Maggie Olivia, the senior policy manager for Abortion Action Missouri, which is part of the abortion rights coalition, criticized the legislation in a statement, saying that “out-of-touch politicians want to try to add their cruelty to the state constitution.”

While people may have complex opinions on abortion, Olivia said that members of all parties agree that decisions about pregnancy, including miscarriage management, abortion and fertility care should be left between patients and their doctors.

“If these anti-abortion, anti-democracy politicians continue to blatantly ignore the will of the people and make a further mockery of Missouri’s political process on a national stage – they will have harsh consequences to face come November,” Olivia said.

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Sparks’ legislation ran into fierce resistance from Democrats during the hearing in the Missouri House General Laws Committee Tuesday evening.

Rep. Keri Ingle, a Lee’s Summit Democrat, criticized the line which barred lawmakers from adding exceptions for rape and incest through state law unless approved by voters through a statewide vote. She pointed to the fact that Missouri Republicans have for years pushed legislation to make it harder for Missourians to amend the state constitution.

“Why do you put in here that only through a vote of the people can abortion exceptions be added and you say in the same breath that you want to make it more difficult for the constitution to be amended?” Ingle asked Sparks.

Rep. Emily Weber, a Kansas City Democrat, excoriated the legislation, arguing that it was an example of Missouri Republicans attempting to regulate women’s bodies.

“My body, my choice,” Weber told Sparks. “As a woman, you are trying to really regulate what my body can and cannot do.”
Sam Lee, a longtime anti-abortion lobbyist in Jefferson City, testified in favor of the measure, saying that he’s been approached by members of his Catholic church who want an opportunity to vote on a “pro-life amendment.”

“I hope I can tell them by the time this General Assembly ends in May, that they will have a chance in November to vote on a pro-life amendment to the constitution just as it’s possible that they’ll be voting on a pro-abortion amendment to the constitution,” Lee told the committee.

“The voters will truly get a choice and we’ll get to decide what should be in our constitution.”
Missouri became the first state to ban nearly all abortions after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in 2022. A 2019 state law that went into effect after the court decision bans abortion in nearly all circumstances and does not include exceptions for rape and incest.

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Under the law — and Sparks’ proposed constitutional amendment — doctors who help perform the procedure are at risk of felony charges and losing their medical licenses. The proposed amendment states that a woman “upon whom an abortion is performed or induced in violation of this subsection shall not be prosecuted for a conspiracy to violate the provisions of this subsection.”

But Rep. Peter Merideth, a St. Louis Democrat, on Tuesday raised questions about whether that language would allow for criminal penalties against women who use medicine that induces an abortion.

“What about being an accessory to the crime? What about being guilty of the crime itself?” Merideth asked. “Aren’t you subjecting the woman to the same charge?”

“If she’s performing it on herself, it’s possible,” Sparks responded.
The ban has sown confusion and fear among women and medical providers across the state and sparked fury from abortion rights supporters.

Polling released this month showed that a plurality of 44% of Missourians supported the effort to overturn the abortion ban while 37% were not in favor. The remaining 19% said they were not sure, a percentage of voters that abortion rights supporters will have to tap into.

The proposed constitutional amendment, if it were to reach the ballot, would require support from more than 50% of votes cast to pass.

©2024 The Kansas City Star. Visit at Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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