JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri's top election official on Tuesday rejected a third petition for a public vote on a new law banning abortions at eight weeks of pregnancy.
Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft's action came as opponents of the law are fighting in court force the Republican to approve two similar petitions for a referendum that he rejected last week.
The ACLU of Missouri and wealthy Republican businessman David Humphreys filed the petitions to put the law on the 2020 ballot in hopes that voters will overturn it. The abortion ban includes an exception for medical emergencies, but not for rape or incest.
Ashcroft cited a provision in the Missouri Constitution that prohibits referendums on "laws necessary for the immediate preservation of the public peace, health or safety" in his decision to reject the petitions.
A majority of the law, including the eight-week abortion ban, takes effect Aug. 28. But a provision that changed the rules on minors receiving abortions was enacted as soon as Republican Gov. Mike Parson signed the bill in May.
The new law requires a parent or guardian giving written consent for a minor to get an abortion to first notify the other custodial parent, unless the other parent has been convicted of a violent or sexual crime, is subject to a protection order or is "habitually in an intoxicated or drugged condition."
The law's "emergency clause" states that enacting the parental-consent portion is vital "because of the need to protect the health and safety of women and their children, both unborn and born."
In court filings, attorneys for the groups trying to repeal the law argued that enacting that provision is not an actual emergency.
Attorneys for both plaintiffs cited a statement by the bill's state Senate handler, GOP Sen. Andrew Koenig, who told St. Louis Public Radio that lawmakers tried to "pre-empt that type of situation by putting an emergency clause in there."
"So there can't be a referendum," he said.
ACLU attorneys wrote in court filings that 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."
A court hearing on the lawsuits is scheduled for next week.
The legal dispute over the abortion law comes as the state's only abortion clinic fights its own court battle to continue providing the service, despite the state health department's refusal to renew the clinic's license.
A St. Louis judge issued an order Monday to keep the St. Louis Planned Parenthood clinic operating while the fight over the facility's license plays out in court. Circuit Judge Michael Stelzer also ordered the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services to decide on Planned Parenthood's application to renew its license by June 21.
"We will not stop speaking out about the injustice that Gov. Parson and director Randall Williams from the department of health have intentionally created for the people of Missouri in a sick obsession to ban abortion and to not let women be equal citizens in this country," Planned Parenthood Medical Director Dr. David Eisenberg said at a Tuesday news conference in reference to Republican Gov. Mike Parson.
Messages seeking comment from spokeswomen for the Republican governor and the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services were not immediately returned.