The Western District Court of Appeals on Oct. 31 affirmed a lower court decision that the summary the Secretary of State proposed to a Reproductive Rights Initiative was "insufficient and unfair."
The League applauds the decision, saying all ballot measures need a clear summary so citizens understand what they are voting on. LWVMO President Marilyn McLeod says, "The Missouri Constitution prescribes a specific process which allows citizens to 'Make Your Voice Heard' through the initiative process described on the Secretary of State's own website. The deliberate tactics being used by politicians to stop the voice of the people on this issue foretells a troubling precedent for future ballot issues."
LWVMO praised Cole County District Judge Jon Beetem for writing more accurate summaries.
“We’re not happy that state officials delayed this process, but we are very glad that the court wrote language that more accurately describes the proposal,” says LWVMO President Marilyn McLeod. “Any ballot measure needs a clear summary so voters understand if they want to vote for or against it.”
Plaintiff Dr. Anna Fitz-James challenged the sufficiency and fairness of the summary statement drafted by Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft on her Right to Reproductive Freedom Initiative Petition. The League filed an amicus brief in August, saying, “It is difficult to imagine a summary statement more unfair, distorted, misleading, and argumentative.”
Ashcroft’s proposed summary said, “Do you want to amend the Missouri Constitution to allow for dangerous, unregulated, and unrestricted abortions, from conception to live birth, without requiring a medical license or potentially being subject to medical malpractice.” Judge Jon Beetem replaced that outrageous summary with a more accurate statement asking voters if they want to “establish a right to make decisions about reproductive health care, including abortion and contraceptives, with any government interference of that right presumed invalid.”
McLeod said Ashcroft and Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey are using delay tactics to keep initiative proponents from having sufficient time to gather the 171,000 valid signatures needed to place their proposed amendment on the ballot in November 2024. The petitions were filed in early March, but Bailey’s dispute of the Auditor’s fiscal note delayed certification for more than 100 days. The Secretary of State may appeal the ballot language case to further delay signature gathering.
“Politicians are trying to delay signature gathering in order to stop reproductive rights from being on the ballot,” says McLeod. “Polls show that most Missourians do not approve of the law that took effect in June 2022 banning abortion even in cases of rape and incest. Missouri voters have the right to use the ballot to change this.”
LWVMO’s state board has not yet voted to endorse this initiative petition to guarantee that women could legally access prenatal care, childbirth, postpartum care, birth control, abortion care, and miscarriage care in Missouri, awaiting the court decision on the ballot language. The League’s position since 1983 has been to “protect the constitutional right of privacy of the individual to make reproductive choices.”