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Anti-abortion group sues Carnahan

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Feb. 9, 2009 - The Missouri Roundtable for Life, a relatively new anti-abortion group, has sued Secretary of State Robin Carnahan as part of their continued dispute over the group's efforts to launch an initiative petition drive to get an anti-abortion bill on the November 2010 ballot.

Besides the volatile issue of abortion, the other key aspect is the timing of the Roundtable's proposed ballot measure. It would be put before voters at the same time that Carnahan could be the Democratic nominee for the U.S. Senate.

Carnahan announced last week that she is running for the post now occupied by Sen. Christopher "Kit" Bond, R-Mo., who is retiring in 2010. So far, no other major Missouri Democrat has announced plans to challenge Carnahan for her party's nomination in 2010.

Carnahan supports abortion rights, but has never made it a major issue in her two campaigns for her current post. Social conservatives, particularly Republicans, may seek to change that in 2010 -- especially since Missouri's other member of the U.S. Senate, Democrat Claire McCaskill, supports abortion rights.

Stephen Clark, the Roundtable's attorney, contends that Carnahan's U.S. Senate aspirations are playing a role in her actions. "They absolutely appeared to be timed to benefit her campaign for Senate and her campaign contributors," Clark said. He cited Carnahan's support form people and groups who favor abortion rights and embryonic stem-cell research.

Carnahan's spokesman says politics had nothing to do with her actions.

The suit, filed Friday, asserts that Carnahan "conspired with'' new Attorney General Chris Koster and state Auditor Susan Montee to block any ballot measures by groups who oppose abortion or embryonic stem cell research.

The Roundtable opposes Amendment 2, the constitutional amendment narrowly approved by Missouri voters in 2006 and which protects all forms of embryonic stem-cell research allowed under federal law.

The Roundtable's ballot proposal for 2010 initially called for making it illegal "to expend, or grant any public funds for abortion services, human cloning, or prohibited human research, as such terms were defined by the 92nd Missouri General Assembly in 2003, in Revised Statutes of Missouri Section 196.1127, L. 2003H.B. 688."

A judge recently ruled that those provisions of the 2003 statute can't be enforced, because they weren't part of an appropriations measure.

Carnahan and the Roundtable are tangling over the proposed ballot language. The Roundtable is taking issue with Carnahan's ballot summary wording, which states, "Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended to make it illegal for the Legislature or state or local governments to expend, pay or grant public funds to hospitals or other institutions for certain research and services ... such as abortion services, including those necessary to save the life of the mother."

Roundtable lawyer Steve Clark said the suit was filed because "Ms. Carnahan has abused her power one too many times and Missouri citizens need the courts to act to control her. The ballot language Carnahan has presented to the public turned a 44 word amendment into a 128 word statement of her political views. She has brought her continual campaign mind-set to her job and it is unacceptable."

Replied Carnahan spokesman Ryan Hobart:

"Our office's ballot summary language is fair and sufficient, and it accurately describes the effect of the proposed constitutional change. Ballot summaries are not written for the proponents or opponents of any proposed initiative. They are written so that all Missourians can clearly understand what it is that they are voting for or against."

Carnahan's staff also notes that she has been sued by opponents of the ballot measure. 

The Missouri Roundtable for Life also has filed open-records requests with the offices of Carnahan, Montee and Koster, in a quest to determine the extent of all three offices' contacts with the Missouri Coalition for Lifesaving Cures, a pro-stem cell research group, and its allies. Some of the Coalition's major backers also have been major financial supporters of Carnahan and Koster.

Clark said the intent is to determine if there was any illegal coordination. Carnahan spokesman Hobart called such an assertion "completely baseless."

"We are often contacted by multiple groups who are interested in particular initiative petitions,'' Hobard said. "However, at the end of the day, it is our office's duty to write language that fairly and accurately describes the initiative to Missouri voters, which is exactly what we did in this case."

Jo Mannies is a freelance journalist and former political reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.