JEFFERSON CITY — Opponents of Missouri’s strict new abortion regulations accused Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft on Wednesday of running out the clock on their ability to ask voters if they want to jettison the law.
In the latest step in an ongoing, bitter battle, Ashcroft, a Republican, issued language for a proposed referendum on Wednesday, leaving opponents less than two weeks to collect the 100,000 signatures needed to put a halt to its implementation and get it on the ballot for a public vote in 2020.
Robin Utz, treasurer of the No Bans on Choice Committee, which opposes the new law, said it would be an “impossible task” to collect the signatures before the law goes into effect Aug. 28.
“He has effectively prevented voters from defeating the extreme eight-week abortion ban at the ballot box. It is outrageous that Secretary Ashcroft, Missouri’s chief elections officer, ran out the clock and blocked the people’s right to a citizen veto,” Utz said in a statement.
Wednesday’s release of the ballot language by Ashcroft was not a surprise.
In July, the state Supreme Court refused to intervene to force the state’s top election official to act quickly on getting the language on the books in order to allow opponents to begin collecting signatures.
The ACLU had asked Supreme Court judges to force Ashcroft to certify a ballot title for the referendum by July 18 in order to give the organization enough time to collect signatures before the Aug. 28 deadline.
Ashcroft in June rejected the ACLU’s referendum petition on abortion, as well as several other petitions, on constitutional grounds. An appellate court panel ruled Ashcroft was wrong to do so and allowed the ACLU to continue its campaign for a referendum.
Ashcroft then said he would follow the timeline that the law requires to issue the ballot language. That timeline came Wednesday.
The language asks voters if they support legislation adopted by the Republican-led Legislature that would prohibit abortions at eight weeks of gestation (at which time there is a medically detected heartbeat), except in cases of medical emergency.
The law also would establish “successive times at which abortions are prohibited (fourteen weeks, eighteen weeks, twenty weeks, all with medical emergency exceptions) if earlier time frames are found unlawful.”
Utz slammed Ashcroft for slow-walking the process and denying voters the ability to weigh in on the law.
“Instead of doing his job, he played political games and blocked Missourians’ right to vote — all in an effort to block access to legal abortion in this state,” Utz said.
The battle over Missouri’s abortion law is similar to disputes in other conservative states.
GOP opponents of abortion, emboldened by a conservative majority on the U.S. Supreme Court, want the court to reconsider the landmark Roe v. Wade decision, the 1973 case that established a nationwide right to an abortion.