The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a lawsuit in Missouri state court against Secretary of State John Ashcroft on Thursday after Ashcroft rejected the ACLU’s petition to allow the people of Missouri to approve or veto the state’s recently passed abortion legislation in a public referendum.
Missouri’s Constitution provides citizens with a right to review newly enacted laws by referendum. Ashcroft argued, however, that the bill contains an emergency provision that makes it ineligible for a referendum:
There are certain limits to the people’s right to a referendum. Specifically, Article III, Section 52(a) makes exceptions for “laws necessary for the immediate preservation of the public peace, health or safety, and laws making appropriations for the current expenses of the state government, for the maintenance of state institutions and for the support of public schools.”
The bill’s emergency clause allows one provision to take immediate effect: minors must notify both of their parents before getting an abortion. As such, argued Ashcroft, the bill could not be reviewed by a referendum.
The ACLU’s suit requests that the court provide a declaratory judgment stating that the bill is not subject to the emergency exception, or an injunction preventing the rejection of the referendum petition until its viability can be determined by the courts. The complaint argues that the two-parent notification requirement does not have a substantial immediate impact because Missouri law already requires minors seeking abortions to notify at least one parent or obtain judicial authorization. Moreover, the complaint alleges that the emergency clause was included “for the sole reason of preempting a referendum … not because of an actual immediate need to preserve the public peace, health, or safety,” citing public comments by State Senator Andrew Koenig, a sponsor of the bill.
Tony Rothert, Acting Executive Director of the ACLU of Missouri, stated that Ashcroft’s refusal to allow the referendum “proves that Missouri’s anti-abortion zealots understand that they’re acting against the wishes of the majority. They hope to short-circuit the people’s vote because they know they will lose if the people get their say.”
Along with the ACLU’s petition, Ashcroft likewise rejected a similar referendum petition by Republican donor David Humphreys, who has spoken out against the bill’s failure to include an exception for victims of rape and incest. Ashcroft’s decision comes as Missouri awaits the outcome of a case that could close the state’s last abortion clinic.