Cole County Judge upholds wording for Missouri abortion initiative

Wednesday, April 22, 2009 | 7:02 p.m. CDT; updated 8:29 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, April 22, 2009

JEFFERSON CITY — A judge has upheld Secretary of State Robin Carnahan's description of a potential ballot measure barring public funding for abortions and certain kinds of embryonic stem cell research.

Carnahan's official ballot summary had been challenged both by the sponsors and the opponents of the proposed constitutional amendment, which is targeted for the 2010 ballot.

But Cole County Judge Patricia Joyce shot down their competing claims that the summary either would bias voters against the measure or leave them unaware of its full negative effect.

Carnahan said Wednesday that she is pleased by the decision.

"I have remained confident throughout this process that the language we wrote for the initiative is an impartial and accurate description of the proposal," Carnahan said in a written statement.

The initiative's sponsor, the Missouri Roundtable for Life, claimed Carnahan was trying to prevent the measure from making the ballot by using wording that would be objectionable to its supporters and potential petition signers.

Carnahan, a Democrat who supports abortion rights, is running for Senate in 2010. Her spokeswoman has denied any political connections to the ballot summary.

The secretary of state, by law, is responsible for drafting summaries for ballot initiatives submitted by citizens' groups. The summaries appear on the petitions people sign to get the measure on the ballot and — if a petition drive succeeds — on the ballot itself.

Carnahan's summary states the measure would make it illegal for governments to spend money for "abortion services, including those necessary to save the life of the mother, and certain types of stem cell research currently allowed under Missouri law."

Missouri Roundtable for Life claimed the phrase "necessary to save the life of the mother" would bias voters against the ballot measure. Among other things, the group also claimed the reference to "stem cell research currently allowed under Missouri law" was prejudicial compared to its preferred wording of banning funding for "human cloning."

The judge's ruling said Missouri law already bans public funding for abortions not necessary to save the life of a woman. Joyce said the initiative would make illegal to spend public money for abortions, even if necessary to save a woman's life.

Joyce also said Carnahan's reference to stem cell research "promotes an understanding of the probable effects of the proposed amendment."

The Missouri Roundtable for Life said the ruling allows "Carnahan to insert her own personal views and her own political agenda into the citizens' initiative petition process."

"This ruling is typical of a tyrannical judiciary in bed with elected officials," said Roundtable for Life Executive Director Todd Jones. "Clearly, this judge believes that Robin Carnahan has dictatorial powers to write whatever summary statement she wants to write without any checks and balances."

The organization's president, Ed Martin, said the sponsors have not decided whether to collect petition signatures under Carnahan's summary. He said an appeal is likely.

Some opponents of the ballot measure said they also were disappointed with the ruling.

Planned Parenthood Federation of American and the Missouri Coalition for Lifesaving Cures each had supported separate lawsuits contending Carnahan's description didn't go far enough in outlining the potential harmful effect of the ballot measure.

Planned Parenthood attorney Jennifer Sandman of New York asserted the summary should have stated the measure could ban all abortions at publicly funded hospitals and could jeopardize Missouri's Medicaid funding by putting the state in conflict with federal requirements.

She said Wednesday that Planned Parenthood also is considering an appeal.

The Coalition for Lifesaving Cures sponsored a successful 2006 constitutional amendment protecting stem cell research, including an embryonic cloning technique for which the latest measure seeks to bar public funding.

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