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More than 380,000 Missourians sign initiative petition to put abortion on ballot • Missouri Independent

A campaign to enshrine abortion rights in Missouri’s constitution said Friday it collected more than 380,000 signatures in just three months, more than double the likely total needed to qualify for this year’s statewide vote.

The coalition, called Missourians for Constitutional Freedom, hopes to put on the November ballot a measure that Legalize abortion up to the point of fetal viability. Since June 2022, almost all abortions have been illegal in the state, with the exception of medical emergencies.

To put a citizen-led constitutional amendment before voters, the campaign had to collect signatures from 8% of voters in six of Missouri’s eight congressional districts. That total is equivalent to more than 171,000 signatures.

The campaign announced Friday morning that they had officially submitted 380,159 signatures to the Missouri Secretary of State’s office. A breakdown of how many signatures came from each district, which will ultimately determine whether they met the threshold needed to qualify, was not provided. But the coalition said they collected signatures from every one of Missouri’s counties and congressional districts.

“Hundreds of thousands of Missourians are having conversations about abortion and reproductive freedom; some share their own first-time abortion stories; and everyone is ready to do whatever it takes to win at the polls this year,” Mallory Schwarz, executive director of Abortion Action Missouri and spokesperson for Missourians for Constitutional Freedom, said in a statement. “Together, we will end Missouri’s abortion ban.”

Attendees applaud during a rally by Missourians for constitutional freedom after the campaign delivered 380,000 signatures for its initiative petition to enshrine abortion rights in the Missouri constitution Friday morning (Annelise Hanshaw/Missouri Independent) .

The effort began 90 days ago and required a massive effort to reach the May 5 signing deadline. The coalition is led by Abortion Action Missouri, the ACLU of Missouri and Planned Parenthood affiliates in Kansas City and St. Louis.

Like the abortion campaigns that have developed in other states, the Missouri coalition has been able to raise more than $5 million in donationseven of the Sixteen Thirty Fund, a liberal dark money organization based in Washington, D.C., which donated $1 million. Separately, more than 3,200 Missourians contributed $1.8 million in the first three months of the year, according to a campaign finance report released last month.

This year, more than 1,800 volunteers from across Missouri helped collect signatures, according to a news release from the coalition. In the three weekends leading up to the deadline, the coalition said volunteers collected 18,000 signatures and knocked on 40,000 doors.

Dr. Iman Alsaden, medical director of Planned Parenthood Great Plains and an adviser to Missourians for Constitutional Freedom, said they became abortion providers in part to sit with patients and help counter any narrative that they are bad people because abort. But the overturning of Roe v. Wade in 2022 made the task much more difficult.

Medical decision-making is clouded by harsh and unclear laws that make providers afraid to do the right thing,” Alsaden said.

Iman Alsaden, medical director of Planned Parenthood Great Plains, speaks during a rally to celebrate the collection of more than 380,000 signatures on an initiative petition to legalize abortion in Missouri (Annelise Hanshaw/Missouri Independent).

The initial attempt to put abortion on the ballot began in March 2023. Legal fights over electoral language and internal disagreements Discussion over whether or not to include a viability ban stalled signature-gathering efforts until January. Viability is often considered to be around 24 weeks of pregnancy.

The language of the initiative petition that the coalition agreed to would allow the legislature to “regulate the provision of abortions after fetal viability provided that under no circumstances shall the government deny, interfere with, delay, or otherwise restrict an abortion that, in the judgment of good faith of the treating physician.” A health professional is needed to protect the life or physical or mental health of the pregnant person.”

Also among those gathered outside the Missouri Capitol to celebrate Friday was Sam Hawickhorst, who in 2015, at age 22, underwent an abortion in Missouri.

“I felt like everyone I turned to for support made my pregnancy about themselves, while I, the pregnant person, was an afterthought,” she told a crowd of about 200 people. “I felt like a burden. But despite these initial obstacles, I knew I had to take care of myself because no one else was.”

After contacting a friend who had recently had an abortion, Hawickhorst went to Planned Parenthood where she was prescribed abortion pills. During the multiple appointments and transvaginal exam required by state law, Hawickhorst said she felt as if the government was “ensuring cruelty every step of the way” so she could have an abortion.

“Abortion is medical care. Abortion is normal. And those who have aborted and will abort deserve dignity and respect,” she said. “This amendment, this movement, is about who makes personal decisions for you and your family.”

Sam Hawickhorst talks about her experience getting an abortion when she was 22 during the Missourians for Constitutional Freedom rally Friday morning at the Missouri Capitol (Annelise Hanshaw/Missouri Independent).

Around the same time the abortion campaign was announced, a separate coalition was organized to oppose it. That group, called Missouri Stands with Women, spent the past few months leading a “refuse to sign” campaign, urging people not to sign the initiative’s petition. So far, Missourians for Constitutional Freedom have greatly exceeded their fundraising.

“Out-of-state Big Abortion supporters believe the fight is over,” Stephanie Bell of Missouri Stands With Women said in a statement Friday. “They couldn’t be more wrong when it comes to defending life in Missouri.”

Anti-abortion groups say more aggressive approach needed to stop Missouri amendment

The abortion petition is among five citizen-led ballot measure campaigns that are expected to deliver a slew of signatures to the Secretary of State’s office before 5 p.m. Sunday.

On Thursday, Winning for Missouri Education, which is a coalition of Missouri professional sports franchises, submitted more than 340,000 signatures hoping to put the legalization of sports gambling on the ballot.

A day earlier, more than 210,000 signatures were submitted for a campaign hoping to ask Missouri voters to order paid sick leave and increase the state’s minimum wage to $13.75 starting in January 2025 and $15 in 2026.

JoDonn Chaney, a spokesperson for the Secretary of State, said signature verification is unlikely to be completed in time for either ballot measure to make it to the August primary.

Annelise Hanshaw of The Independent contributed.

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