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Missouri petition backers use poll to combat ballot summary

Tuesday, April 21, 2009 | 7:00 a.m. CDT

JEFFERSON CITY — An anti-abortion group that is challenging Missouri Secretary of State Robin Carnahan over an initiative petition cited poll data Monday to bolster its argument that the ballot summary is unfair.

The Missouri Roundtable for Life is sponsoring a proposed constitutional amendment to ban use of public funds to support abortion and certain embryonic stem cell research. The group has sued the secretary of state's office and wants a judge to rewrite the measure's summary.

On Monday, Missouri Roundtable for Life released poll data it contends shows that Carnahan's ballot summary makes potential voters less likely to support the measure than when they are shown a ballot summary favored by the sponsoring group.

The secretary of state's office is responsible for drafting ballot summaries on proposed initiatives.

The wording approved by Carnahan would ask voters whether to amend the Missouri Constitution to "make it illegal for the Legislature or state or local governments to expend, pay or grant public funds to hospitals or other institutions for certain research and services, as defined by the General Assembly in section 196.1127, Revised Statutes of Missouri, 2003, such as abortion services, including those necessary to save the life of the mother, and certain types of stem cell research currently allowed under Missouri law."

The Missouri Roundtable for Life said 48 percent of poll respondents indicated they were likely to support an initiative "to make it unlawful to expend, pay, or grant any public funds for abortion services," and 41 percent indicated they would likely oppose it.

But when it was noted that abortion services would include "those necessary to save the life of the mother" — the phrase used in the wording approved by Carnahan — support dropped to 38 percent and opposition rose to 44 percent, the Missouri Roundtable for Life said.

The poll commissioned by Missouri Roundtable for Life sampled 600 likely Missouri voters on March 24-25 and had a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points. It was conducted by McLaughlin & Associates, whose clients include the Republican National Committee, National Republican Senatorial Committee, National Republican Congressional Committee, Republican Governors Association and state Republican parties in a dozen states.

Carnahan spokeswoman Laura Egerdal said Monday that the ballot summary is fair.

"There is a process defined in Missouri law for challenging and evaluating Missouri ballot language, and that takes place in the courts," Egerdal said.

The Missouri Roundtable for Life poll also examined language in the summary addressing a certain kind of embryonic stem cell research.

When asked about a measure "to make it illegal for the legislature, state or local governments to expend, pay or grant public funds to certain types of stem cell research currently allowed under Missouri law," 39 percent indicated support and 43 percent opposition.

When asked about wording preferred by the Missouri Roundtable for Life — whether to "make it unlawful to expend, pay or grant any public funds for human cloning" — support rose to 55 percent and opposition fell to 36 percent.

The Missouri Coalition for Lifesaving Cures successfully sponsored a voter-approved constitutional amendment in 2006 that protected embryonic stem cell research.

Coalition spokesman Jim Goodwin said Monday that the latest proposed initiative is an attempt to gut the 2006 measure. He said there are additional negative consequences, such as potential funding cuts to higher education institutions, that Carnahan did not describe in her ballot summary.


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