Missouri abortion law critics won't seek signatures for vote

Abortion-rights supporters march Thursday, May 30, 2019, in St. Louis. A St. Louis judge heard an hour of arguments Thursday on Planned Parenthood's request for a temporary restraining order that would prohibit the state from allowing the license for Missouri's only abortion clinic to lapse at midnight Friday. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Critics of a new Missouri law that bans abortions after eight weeks of pregnancy say they won't make a push to gather the signatures needed to block it pending a public vote, meaning it's on course to take effect at the end of the month.

Opponents of the law sought a referendum in the hopes that voters would overturn it. But with only two weeks to gather the more than 100,000 voter signatures required to put it on the 2020 ballot, an American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri official says there's simply not enough time.

"Our push now is to register voters for the 2020 election," ACLU of Missouri Development Director Nicole Rainey said in a Thursday email. "Like I said - it is impossible to collect signatures within this timeframe."

That means the law is on course to kick in Aug. 28.

The law will ban abortions at or after eight weeks of pregnancy. It includes exceptions for medical emergencies, but not for rape or incest. Doctors who violate the eight-week cutoff could face five to 15 years in prison. Women who terminate their pregnancies cannot be prosecuted.

There's still a chance the law could be blocked before then.

The ACLU and Planned Parenthood sued Missouri, claiming the ban is unconstitutional. A hearing is set for Aug. 26.

Critics of the law have accused Republican Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft of dragging his feet to process the petition.

Robin Utz, treasurer of the No Bans On Choice political committee, in a Wednesday statement said Ashcroft "ran out the clock and blocked the people's right to a citizen veto."

But Ashcroft spokeswoman Maura Browning on Wednesday said the office met legal deadlines and certified the petition five days early.

"This referendum has followed the same process we use for every initiative petition and referendum, and has taken an amount of time comparable to any other petition or referendum," Browning said in a statement.

She said critics of the law could have sped up the process by filing the petition earlier, before Gov. Mike Parson signed it .

"The ACLU could have filed the referendum as soon as the bill was passed by both houses of the legislature," Browning said. "Instead, they waited 11 days. If they had filed during that time period, before the bill was signed into law, it likely would not have been rejected by our office."

Kentucky , Mississippi, Ohio and Georgia also have approved bans on abortions once fetal cardiac activity can be detected, which can occur in about the sixth week of pregnancy. Some of those laws already have been challenged in court, and similar restrictions in North Dakota and Iowa have been struck down by judges.

Missouri already has some of the nation's most restrictive abortion regulations, including a requirement that doctors performing abortions have partnerships with nearby hospitals. Missouri is down to one clinic performing abortions, which is in St. Louis.