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ELECTION 2008 | Baltimore Sun Examines Missouri Ballot Proposal That Critics Say Could Lead To Ban on Abortion

ELECTION 2008 | Baltimore Sun Examines Missouri Ballot Proposal That Critics Say Could Lead To Ban on Abortion
[Jan. 4, 2008]

The Baltimore Sun on Thursday examined a proposed Missouri ballot initiative that would require doctors to certify that performing an abortion was necessary to avoid a woman's death or prevent a "serious risk of substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function of the pregnant woman." If the initiative is placed on the November 2008 ballot and is approved by voters, Missouri would have "possibly the most restrictive abortion law in the country," the Sun reports (Scharnberg, Baltimore Sun, 1/3).

Under the proposal, named the "Prevention of Coerced and Unsafe Abortion Act" by supporters, doctors would be required to document that continuing the pregnancy would be more harmful than the combination of every "psychological, emotional, demographic or situational" risk that has been linked to abortion in any study published in a peer-reviewed journal. If a doctor failed to complete the requirements, a woman who had an abortion could sue the doctor and receive up to $10,000 for each risk the doctor failed to include in the determination. The woman also could sue for wrongful death of the fetus and could file suit up to two years "after the date the woman has recovered from any psychological complications" from the abortion, the proposal says. The proposal does not contain any exceptions for rape or incest. Abortions, including those to save a woman's life, also would be subject to a 48-hour waiting period (Daily Women's Health Policy Report, 12/19/07).

Supporters of the proposal said it would force abortion providers to inform women about potential consequences of abortion. Opponents have called statistics cited about the number of coerced abortions and the emotional impact of the procedure "junk science." In addition, opponents say the amendment is unconstitutional because it is inconsistent with Roe v. Wade .

Pamela Sumners, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Missouri, said that the proposal "would essentially amount to an all-out ban, because of the multiple factors that would have to be present for a woman to qualify for an abortion and because doctors would be subject to lawsuits from any woman who later wishes she had done things differently." David Reardon -- a proponent of the initiative and director of the Elliot Institute, an antiabortion group in Springfield, Ill. -- said, "It is my belief that the vast majority of Missouri citizens, even those who believe that abortions should be readily available to women, would agree ... that no abortion should ever be the result of coercion."

Missouri Democrats also are "furious" that Gov. Matt Blunt (R), who is up for re-election, has formed a task force of 13 antiabortion individuals to "highlight the impact of abortion on women: physiologically, psychologically and socially," the Sun reports. Meanwhile, Republicans say that Missouri's Secretary of State Robin Carnahan (D) is using inflammatory language to describe the initiative and influence public opinion (Baltimore Sun, 1/3).

The petition's supporters must gather at least 86,000 signatures to put the proposal on Missouri's 2008 election ballot (Daily Women's Health Policy Report, 12/19/07). "I think they will get their signatures," Sumners said, adding, "And when they do, we'll be prepared to throw everything we've got at it" (Baltimore Sun, 1/3).