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Hundreds rally for abortion rights

Protesters gathered on May 21 between the Old Courthouse and Gateway Arch to rally against the near-total abortion ban passed in the Missouri Legislature.

(Robert Cohen, rcohen@post-dispatch.com)

An appellate court ruling allowing abortion-rights advocates to launch a ballot challenge of Missouri’s draconian new anti-abortion-rights law is a major victory for women’s control over their own bodies. The clock is now ticking; those advocates will have a little over a month to gather the more than 100,000 signatures needed to prevent the law from going into effect in late August and putting the issue on the statewide ballot next year.

With the Legislature’s Republican supermajority radicalized and relentless on this issue, it’s crucial that organizers not drop the ball on this one. Missourians need to be rallied to sign those petitions as soon as possible, and to follow up at the ballot box next year.

For more than four decades now, the ability of women to decide for themselves — within reasonable time frames — whether to carry pregnancies to term has been recognized as a fundamental right in America. Poll after poll shows large majorities of Americans support that right.

The current zeal among GOP leaders in Missouri and other red states to deny that right has nothing to do with the will of the people; it’s entirely about attempting to circumvent that will with the help of a conservative Supreme Court. The strategy is straightforward: Create laws they know can’t pass constitutional muster under Roe v. Wade, in order to set up a high-court challenge of that landmark 1973 decision.

In Missouri this year, the Legislature and Gov. Mike Parson approved a law that would make most abortions illegal after eight weeks — a point at which many women don’t even know they’re pregnant. Even victims of rape or incest would face that unreasonable timeline.

The American Civil Liberties Union attempted to submit a referendum petition to give the state’s voters the opportunity to overrule the Legislature, a clearly permitted and commonly used right in Missouri. But Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft rejected the petition, saying he had no choice because his fellow Republicans in the Legislature designated the law an “emergency,” putting it outside the reach of a referendum.

There is, of course, no “emergency” here — other than the GOP’s well-founded fear that Missouri voters, if given the chance, will prevent this oppressive law from taking effect.

Missouri’s Western District Court of Appeals saw right through this charade, ruling Monday that Ashcroft was “without authority” to reject the petition and ordering the petitioners to be allowed to begin gathering signatures.

This newspaper has generally opposed legislation-by-referendum; voters send representatives to Jefferson City for a reason. But the current Legislature has moved so far right of average Missourians on some issues — medical marijuana, union rights, the minimum wage — that ballot measures have become a necessary course correction.

We would suggest that this extremist anti-abortion-rights law is another example of that disconnect. If the state’s Republican power structure disagrees, then why not stop fighting this and let the voters weigh in?