Missouri, Mississippi lawmakers attempting to block pro-abortion initiatives

Election vote ballot box Credit roibu  Shutterstock roibu / Shutterstock.

Amid a flurry of abortion-related referenda being pushed in states across the country this year, Republican lawmakers in Mississippi and Missouri are attempting to mitigate proposed pro-abortion initiatives in favor of the strong pro-life laws currently in force. 

Under a proposal passed in late January by the Mississippi House of Representatives, Mississippians would be prevented from placing an initiative on the statewide ballot to change the state’s abortion laws. The proposal is part of a broader effort by Mississippi lawmakers to revive the state’s process of getting referenda on the ballot after its previous method was struck down by the state Supreme Court in 2021. 

Mississippi’s law that makes abortion illegal after 15 weeks, which has since been superseded by a law making virtually all abortions illegal, was the subject of the Supreme Court case that ultimately overturned Roe v. Wade in 2022. Some Mississippi House Republicans have said voters should not be allowed to vote on changing abortion laws because Mississippi originated the legal case that overturned Roe v. Wade, the Associated Press reported.

Abortion is only legal in Mississippi if the life of the mother is at risk or if the child was conceived due to an instance of rape reported to law enforcement. 

In Missouri, lawmakers are similarly pushing a change to the state’s process for putting initiatives on the ballot, with lawmakers seeking to avoid the passage of a pro-abortion initiative currently gathering signatures in the state. 

Under current law, initiative petitions to amend the state constitution must pass with a simple majority vote statewide. But under a measure approved by the Senate Local Government and Elections Committee Jan. 31, campaigns would also need to win a majority in 82 of the state’s 163 Missouri House districts, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

Any change to the initiative petition process would have to appear as a proposed constitutional amendment on a statewide ballot and be approved by a majority of voters; supporters of the measure hope to have the change on the ballot by August, the Post-Dispatch continued. 

The proposals, filed last March by a group called Missourians for Constitutional Freedom, would amend the Missouri Constitution to declare that the government “shall not infringe upon a person’s fundamental right to reproductive freedom, which is the right to make and carry out decisions about all matters related to reproductive health care, including but not limited to prenatal care, childbirth, postpartum care, birth control, abortion care, miscarriage care, and respectful birthing conditions.”

The Missouri Catholic Conference, which advocates for policy in the state on behalf of the bishops, urged Catholics in a recent newsletter to stay up to date on the various proposals. 

“It appears that — unlike in other states where abortion advocates ran successful initiative campaigns — abortion groups cannot agree on the best strategy in Missouri,” the conference wrote. 

“Although no abortion initiative has made it to the ballot at this time, the bishops of Missouri remind the faithful to remain alert and to continue to do what they can to safeguard the fundamental principles of the right to life. This means being active and informed citizens, guided by well-formed consciences … We also support efforts that seek to reduce or eliminate the underlying social causes for abortion by expanding care and resources available to mothers. Even with legal protections for the unborn, as we have in our state today, more can still be done to build a culture of life.”

While only two states so far have confirmed that they will put abortion-related referenda before voters in 2024, efforts are underway in nearly a dozen other states by activists to put pro-abortion legal changes before the people. 

Since the overturning of Roe v. Wade, four states — California, Michigan, Ohio, and Vermont — have added a so-called “right” to abortion to their laws by way of a statewide vote. In three additional states — Kentucky, Kansas, and Montana — voters rejected measures that would have strengthened pro-life laws. 

Missouri and Mississippi aren’t the only states where lawmakers are attempting to mitigate the chance of pro-abortion measures reaching the ballot. In Florida, Attorney General Ashley Moody has asked the state Supreme Court to block an effort to place a pro-abortion constitutional amendment before voters in the 2024 election, arguing that the initiative “does not satisfy the legal requirements for ballot placement.” The proposed language would add a right to abortion before the point of “viability” to the state’s constitution if 60% of voters approve.

Opponents of the pro-abortion measure, such as the Florida Catholic Conference, have argued that the proposed amendment could nullify current state laws requiring parental consent before minors obtain abortions and a 24-hour waiting period prior to abortions, as well as the state’s current 15-week abortion ban and another law that would only allow abortions up to six weeks in pregnancy, which is currently blocked by litigation.

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