Missouri Republicans advance bills to prevent voter initiatives from protecting abortion rights
Kansas voters overwhelmingly rejected a state constitutional amendment last year that would have stripped residents of abortion rights.
Now, less than six months later, the Republican-controlled state legislature is considering bills to undermine the will of the voters by limiting or outright banning abortion.
The most extreme, HB 2181, is a total abortion ban with no exceptions for rape, incest, or to save the mother’s life. It further bans IVF, in vitro fertilization, by creating a new crime of “unlawful destruction of a fertilized embryo.” Both abortion and embryo reduction would be Level 1 felonies, charged the same as capital murder and terrorism, and punishable by a minimum of 20 years in prison.
If HB 2181 passes the legislature, and the legislature overrides a likely veto by Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly, it would be up to the courts to block enforcement. Republican legislators anticipated this, adding a provision that would allow lawmakers to impeach and remove “any judge of this state who purports to enjoin, stay, overrule or void any” portion of HB 2181.
“It’s an unconstitutional bill, on its face,” said Teresa Woody, a longtime attorney representing abortion providers in Kansas, including in the 2019 case…“This law has to be interpreted by the Kansas courts — because that’s their job; to interpret the laws vis a vis the Constitution of Kansas,” she said. “It would be a breach of separation of powers for the Legislature to say that they can control the outcomes and opinions of the Kansas appellate court.”
One of the seven co-sponsors of HB 2181, Rep. Randy Garber (R), intends to persuade the legislature to redo last year’s voter referendum on abortion, saying that he is convinced 2022’s result “was not representative of broad public opinion.”
Kansas Republicans also introduced the following anti-abortion bills:
- SB 5 prohibits the prescription of abortion medication through telemedicine services. Lawmakers included a provision that prevents the governor—currently a Democrat—from allowing telemedicine abortion during states of emergency (e.g. pandemics).
- HB 2135 and SB 96: Establishes an income, privilege, and premium tax credit for contributions to crisis pregnancy centers that “prevent abortion and promote healthy childbirth.”
- SB 65: Alters state law to allow a city or county to impose abortion regulations that are “at least as stringent as or more stringent than” statewide policy. In other words, this bill would allow localities to ban abortion despite the referendum in favor of protecting abortion rights.
Within minutes of the U.S. Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade last year, Missouri Gov. Mike Parson (R) and then-Attorney General Eric Schmitt (R) filed paperwork to immediately enact a law prohibiting all abortions “except in cases of medical emergency.” There are no exceptions for rape or incest and the state has not provided guidance for what conditions qualify as an emergency.
In order to avoid voters potentially amending the state constitution to restore a right to abortion, à la Kansas, Missouri House Republicans are pushing four bills that make it harder for voters to change the state Constitution. Currently, initiative petitions proposing constitutional amendments must be signed by 8% of voters in six of Missouri’s eight congressional districts. A simple majority of votes cast are required for a constitutional amendment to take effect.
- SJR 2: Requires a simple majority of all registered voters (not just a majority of the votes cast) to approve constitutional amendments.
- SJR 5: Requires initiative petitions to be approved by at least 60% of votes cast to take effect.
- SJR 10: Requires all constitutional amendments to be approved by at least 60% of voters if they include imposing or increasing taxes or fees, or obligate the state to appropriate $10 million or more in any of the first five years after enactment.
- HJR 43: Increases the required threshold for approval of a constitutional measure from 51% to 60% of votes cast. As first introduced, would additionally require 10% of registered voters in every congressional district to approve of a referendum.
- HB 704: Requires people signing a petition for a referendum to show photo ID.
It is important to note that Missouri Republicans also want to limit voter initiatives to stop other popular reforms. For example, citizens of the state have already used the process to legalize marijuana and expand Medicaid.
Criminalizing pregnant people
Most of the anti-abortion bills passed immediately following the U.S. Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision focused on criminalizing abortion providers. Now, state lawmakers are pushing legislation that also criminalizes people who obtain an abortion.
In Oklahoma, Sen. Warren Hamilton (R) introduced SB 287 to remove an exception to the state’s abortion ban for people whose “unborn child” dies. People who obtain an abortion, or cause themselves to abort a fetus (intentionally or unintentionally), will therefore be subject to the same penalty as abortion providers: a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
Meanwhile, in Arkansas, a group of four male Republican lawmakers sponsored a bill that applies the state’s homicide laws to aborted fetuses, whether intentionally or unintentionally aborted. While the bill includes an exception to save the life of the mother, we already know that these exceptions mean almost nothing in practice.
Ironically, the four lawmakers declare that the legislature finds that “the equality of all persons before the law is recognized and shall ever remain inviolate,” while regulating women’s reproductive systems in a way they’d never consider regulating men’s.
Finally, Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall (R) remarked last month that the state could begin prosecuting pregnant people for taking abortion pills under a chemical-endangerment law.
“The Human Life Protection Act targets abortion providers, exempting women ‘upon whom an abortion is performed or attempted to be performed’ from liability under the law,” Marshall said. “It does not provide an across-the-board exemption from all criminal laws, including the chemical-endangerment law—which the Alabama Supreme Court has affirmed and reaffirmed protects unborn children.”
The chemical endangerment law, passed in 2006, was intended to prosecute people who “knowingly, recklessly, or intentionally causes or permits a child to be exposed to, to ingest or inhale, or to have contact with a controlled substance, chemical substance, or drug paraphernalia.”
Lawmakers wrote the law to prosecute people who exposed children to methamphetamine laboratories, but it has recently been used to punish pregnant women who test positive for drugs. For example, Katie Darovitz was arrested and charged with Class C felony for using marijuana to control her epilepsy symptoms while pregnant:
When she got pregnant in 2014, she discovered marijuana could control her seizures and had not been associated with birth defects. But when she gave birth, hospital staffers turned over her positive marijuana screen to a social worker who turned it over to law enforcement officials. Two police officers showed up at the house Darovitz shared with her common-law husband and their two-week-old son, handcuffed her, and hauled her off to jail. Though her son, Will, was in good health, Darovitz was charged with a Class C felony — punishable by up to 10 years in prison…
Ultimately, [her lawyer Jose] Guzman was able to negotiate a deal with the Russell County District Attorney’s office, which agreed to drop the charges if Darovitz signed a letter saying she intended to move to a state, such as Georgia, where medical marijuana is legal and if she agreed not to sue the county.
Another woman, Ashley Banks, admitted to smoking marijuana on the same day she found out she was pregnant. She was held in jail under special bond conditions that require rehab and $10,000 cash.