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Missouri official stresses safety over abortion access

Abortion-rights supporters take part in a protest Thursday, May 30, 2019, in St. Louis. A St. Louis judge heard an hour of arguments Thursday on Planned Parenthood's request for a temporary restraining order that would prohibit the state from allowing the license for Missouri's only abortion clinic to lapse at midnight Friday. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

JEFFERSON CITY — A Cole County judge on Thursday tossed out one of a trio of lawsuits seeking to allow voters to decide the fate of the state’s new restrictions on abortion.

In dismissing the legal challenged by the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri, Circuit Judge Daniel Green gave the organization a chance to pursue the case to a state appeals court, where the case was likely to end up anyway.

The decision to dismiss the case came two days after Green set a hearing Monday to discuss the challenge, as well as one funded by wealthy Republican campaign donor David Humphreys, who opposes the new law because it lacks protections for women who are raped or victims of incest.

Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft, who signs off on proposed referendums, contends the ballot initiatives cannot go forward because one part of the abortion law is already in effect.

The new law bans doctors from terminating a woman’s pregnancy after the eighth week, except in medical emergencies.

The law would ban abortion completely in Missouri if the Supreme Court overturns the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that made abortion legal throughout the United States.

Those elements don’t go into effect until Aug. 28.

But a provision requiring both parents to be notified of a planned abortion of a minor went into effect when Republican Gov. Mike Parson signed the legislation last month.

ACLU attorney Tony Rothert told the Post-Dispatch Thursday that the group wanted Green to dismiss the case in order to keep the lawsuit moving in the court system.

Opponents of the law are working against an Aug. 28 deadline to collect 100,000 signatures to freeze the law until a vote can be held. But, the legality of the initiative must be determined first.

Rothert wants the appeals court to put the case on a fast track.

"We'll be asking for it to be expedited. We hope the appeal can be resolved in a couple of weeks," Rothert said.

Among the arguments the appellate court may hear is whether requiring two parent notification for minors is an actual emergency.

"That could be part of the argument," Rothert said.

Attorney Lowell Pearson, who is representing Humphreys, said the emergency clause prohibition on referendums doesn’t apply because only part of the bill, and not the entire measure, went into effect right away.

Pearson and the ACLU also say that provision is not an actual emergency, citing statements by the bill’s sponsor that the insertion of an emergency clause was designed to block a referendum.

The ACLU said the Legislature "cannot tack an emergency law onto a non-emergency law in order to evade citizens' fundamental right of review on laws that fall unambiguously within the people's constitutional referendum power."

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Kurt Erickson is a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch