A coalition of reproductive and civil rights groups formally launched an effort Thursday to advance an amendment that would enshrine abortion rights in the Missouri Constitution.
Missourians for Constitutional Freedom began collecting signatures throughout the state after they selected one proposed constitutional amendment to attempt to place on the 2024 ballot from an original field of 11 possible options.
The campaign makes Missouri the latest state where abortion-rights groups have sought to place a constitutional amendment on the ballot after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June 2022. In the 19 months since that ruling, abortion-rights advocates have won every race in which the issue has appeared directly on the ballot.
The proposed amendment in Missouri would enshrine language in the state constitution that protects abortion rights, as well as other reproductive rights up until fetal viability, or around the 24th week of pregnancy, with exceptions after that point for the life and health of the woman.
The proposed amendment states that the government “shall not deny or infringe upon a person’s fundamental right to reproductive freedom” — which is defined as all decisions related to reproductive health care (explicitly including “birth control,” “abortion care” and “miscarriage care”) — up until fetal viability.
The proposal would also deem any “denial, interference, delay or restriction” of such care as “invalid.”
After that point, the government would be able to restrict abortion, except in cases when treating health care professionals have decided that abortions would “protect the life or physical or mental health” of the woman.
At the same time, the amendment would allow legislators and state officials to restrict abortion rights in any situation when doing so “is for the limited purpose and has the limited effect of improving or maintaining the health of a person seeking care, is consistent with widely accepted clinical standards of practice and evidence-based medicine, and does not infringe on that person’s autonomous decision-making.”
Missouri has one of the strictest abortion bans in the U.S. The near-total ban snapped into effect after Roe was overturned, with exceptions to protect the life of the woman and for medical emergencies.
If the amendment were to pass, it would effectively undo that law.
“Passing this amendment will end our state’s abortion ban and make sure Missourians and their families can once again make the decisions that are best for them,” Tori Schafer, the deputy director for policy and campaigns at the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri, said in an interview. “We believe that decisions around pregnancy, including abortion, birth control and miscarriage care, are personal and private. And that they should be left up to patients and their families.”
In addition to the ACLU of Missouri, the Missourians for Constitutional Freedom coalition includes Planned Parenthood Great Plains, the group’s political arm in Missouri and other neighboring states, as well as other abortion-rights groups in the state, like Abortion Action Missouri.
The formal kickoff of signature-collection efforts marks a new chapter for the groups, which had in recent months filed 11 proposed amendments with state officials before they decided which one to move forward with.
Since March, the group’s proposed ballot language in several of those proposed measures had faced legal challenges from Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft, an anti-abortion-rights Republican.
But Missourians for Constitutional Freedom won those lawsuits, allowing them to select which of the proposed measures to advance to the signature-collecting phase.
“This amendment is the amendment we believe can then win in Missouri,” Schafer said of the iteration the group selected.
The groups now must submit about 172,000 valid signatures by May 5 to qualify for ballot placement later this year.
If the effort is successful, it would then be up to Gov. Mike Parson, a Republican, to decide which ballot to place the measure on. Parson could choose to place the proposed amendment, for example, on the ballot for Aug. 6, the date of the state’s primary elections for many offices (excluding the presidential primaries), or on the Nov. 5 general election ballot.
“We see a path to victory regardless of when we’re placed on the ballot,” Schafer said.
The Republican-led Missouri Women and Family Research Fund is also attempting to place an abortion-rights constitutional amendment on the ballot this year.
The group has filed several proposed amendments with state officials, including one that would add exceptions for rape and incest to the current abortion ban and another that would enshrine language in the state constitution allowing abortion care until the 12th week of pregnancy.