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Group files ballot measures adding abortion protections to Missouri Constitution

Hundreds of demonstrators gather to advocate for abortion rights on Tuesday, May 3, 2022, at the Thomas F. Eagleton U.S. Courthouse in downtown St. Louis.
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
Hundreds of demonstrators gather to advocate for abortion rights on Tuesday, May 3, 2022, at the Thomas F. Eagleton U.S. Courthouse in downtown St. Louis.

Eleven versions of a proposed initiative petition seeking to roll back Missouri’s ban on abortion by adding protections for the procedure to the state constitution were filed Wednesday with the Secretary of State’s office.

Filed by a St. Louis doctor on behalf of a political action committee called Missourians for Constitutional Freedom, the proposals would amend the constitution to declare that the “government shall not infringe upon a person’s fundamental right to reproductive freedom.”

That would include “prenatal care, childbirth, postpartum care, birth control, abortion care, miscarriage care and respectful birthing conditions.” Penalties for both patients seeking reproductive-related care and medical providers would be outlawed.

But there are key differences on a range of topics between the 11 different proposals.

Each version of the proposed amendment says there must be a “compelling governmental interest” for abortion restrictions to be put in place. But while some allow the legislature to regulate abortion after “fetal viability,” others draw the line at 24 weeks of gestation.

Some versions make it clear the state can enact parental consent laws for minors seeking abortions. Others leave the topic out entirely.

It’s unclear who is involved with Missourians for Constitutional Freedom. A message left with the PAC’s treasurer was not returned.

One group that isn’t connected to the effort is Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri.

Before Missouri banned virtually all abortions last year, Planned Parenthood’s St. Louis clinic was the only provider in the state offering abortion services.

Vanessa Wellbery, vice president of policy and advocacy for Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri, said that while her organization is not involved with the proposals filed on Thursday, “we are deeply committed to rebuilding a system that ensures all people can access abortion and all providers can provide it without political or legislative interference.”

“We look forward to exploring all avenues and opportunities to restore access to abortion for all Missourians regardless of who they are, where they live or how much money they make,” she said.

In a policy memo released last month entitled “Abortion restrictions under the guise of protections,” Wellbery’s organization made it clear it would not support any proposals that would allow legislative, policy or political interference in reproductive health care.

Specifically, the memo panned the idea of “viability” limits, saying viability “is not a medical construct and has no relevance to clinical care. It is a political construct set under Roe v. Wade. We now know that the viability standard tried and failed to balance state and personal interests, and it did not work.”

Planned Parenthood also said it couldn’t support any parental notification or consent allowances, even when packaged with physician bypass measures.

“As long-time abortion providers that practiced in the state of Missouri, we know the targeted and hostile scrutiny politicians place against us,” the memo states. “Physician bypass measures put the burden on already-targeted providers. Just like doctors are now withholding care from pregnant people out of fear of prosecution, so too will many providers withhold care from young people who might not have a trusted adult or a safe home environment.”

One version of the amendment that was submitted Thursday does exclude both viability limits and parental notification.

The 11 proposals also drew the ire of those who oppose abortion.

Sam Lee, a long time anti-abortion activist and director of Campaign Life Missouri, said any of the proposals submitted Thursday would “enshrine in Missouri’s Constitution the most radical, far-reaching pro-abortion provisions of any U.S. state – including California or New York.”

The next step is for the Secretary of State’s office to accept public comments on the 11 versions of the proposed amendment. A summary will be written and supporters can then begin gathering signatures to place the issue on the 2024 ballot.

Copyright 2023 St. Louis Public Radio. To see more, visit St. Louis Public Radio.

Jason Hancock