Group submits new effort to legalize abortion in Missouri: ‘Changing this law is urgent’
There’s a new effort to legalize abortion in Missouri.
The Missouri Women and Family Research Fund has submitted six ballot initiative petitions to the secretary of state that would chip away at Missouri’s ban on most abortions.
They would allow for abortions in the case of rape, incest, fatal fetal abnormalities or risks to health or safety of a mother. Several would also allow for abortions up to 12 weeks of pregnancy.
Jamie Corley, executive director of the group behind the petitions, said a number of the state’s Republican officials, including U.S. Sens. Josh Hawley and Eric Schmitt, support exceptions in abortion bans for rape, incest and the mother's safety.
Corely said there’s also support for the proposals’ language that stresses that women cannot be prosecuted criminally or civilly for having an abortion.
“The current law puts women's lives at risk,” Corley said. “And it makes it dangerous to be a mom in Missouri. So, changing this law is urgent.”
While Corley acknowledged that allowing for abortions up to 12 weeks does not have backing as resounding as a proposal that expands exceptions, she said some Republicans have expressed support for legislation that would allow for abortion up to 15 weeks of pregnancy.
Opposition from both sides?
Sam Lee of Campaign Life Missouri, a group that opposes abortion rights, said the language in the petitions that states abortion is allowed if a mother’s “health or safety” is at risk would make the procedure available at any time during a pregnancy.
“It's written in a clever way to give the perception that it only would allow abortions in very limited circumstances,” Lee said. “So just the mere assertion that there's some sort of health or risk would allow her to have an abortion at any time.”
In response, Corley said: “This idea of a ‘life of the mother loophole’ is both appalling and dangerous to women’s lives.”
Lee pointed to several tweets from abortion rights supporters who said that Corley’s proposals did not go far enough, which he said could indicate some dissension in how to proceed in legalizing the procedure in the state.
In a statement, Yamelsie Rodríguez, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri, said her group “has always advocated for abortion access that is just, equitable, and scientifically grounded, and that doesn’t change today.”
“As a health care provider — and the last abortion provider in the state — we know the consequences of abortion bans and restrictions: Exceptions have never provided meaningful access,” Rodriguez said. “While some are proposing ballot measures that will continue to harm Missourians, we will continue to fight for the meaningful access that Missourians need.”
While Corley said that while she respects other groups that are trying to legalize abortion, “I think we have a much different view and assessment about what is ultimately passable in Missouri.”
Seeking a bipartisan effort
Corley previously worked as a communications director for West Virginia Sen. Shelley Moore Capito and as a press secretary for former Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker — both Republicans.
Corley said that she still identifies with the Republican Party.
Corley said that after she published an op-ed in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch declaring herself a “pro-choice Republican,” one of her friends said: "You're not pro-choice with restrictions. You're pro-life with exceptions.”
“And that was really interesting to me,” Corley said. “Because it proved that there's a lot of elasticity in both of those terms, right? What does it mean to be pro choice? What does it mean to be pro-life? So that's one of the reasons you will never see us saying this is a Republican or a Democratic initiative — or this is a pro-choice or pro-life initiative. Because what we want to give voters is the opportunity to express that elasticity on the issue.”
Once the financial costs and ballot summaries of the petitions are finalized, Corley’s group will need to collect more than 171,000 signatures across a number of congressional districts to place the measures on the 2024 ballot.