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Government, Politics & Issues

New petition drives in Missouri once again target abortions and stem-cell research

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Oct. 20, 2009 - Abortion and embryonic stem-cell research -- two political perennials in Missouri -- are once again cropping up, with the emergence of two new initiative petition drives aimed at getting related measures on next year's November ballot.

Both drives seek to, in effect, block certain forms of stem-cell research now protected under Missouri law. 

One of the proposals also aims to outlaw all abortions as well by changing the state constitution to define and protect a person "from the beginning of biological development and grant such person constitutional rights and access to courts..."

Critics say both proposals could cost Missouri billions of federal dollars and create legal turmoil, and that one would appear to bar some forms of birth control.

Gregory Thompson, a counselor from Humansville, Mo. (40 miles north of Springfield), launched the "personhood" drive because of his religious concerns.

"The main purpose is to faithfully honor and glorify God and stand in harm's way for his children's lives and souls,'' Thompson said in an interview. "God will never bless America until we turn back to Him and quit killing our babies."

Thompson was the Constitution Party's candidate for Missouri governor last year, but he says he is avoiding any partisan ties with this initiative-petition effort. It already has been endorsed by several national anti-abortion groups, including the American Life League and Operation Save America.

He acknowledged that his proposal's wording is similar to that being circulated in several other states, including Michigan, Colorado, California and Florida. 

Pamela Sumners, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Missouri, said reproductive-rights groups around the country have been monitoring such activities. "This is pretty much a nationwide movement with these 'personhood' proposals,' " she said.

Sumners contended that the wording of the proposals, including the Missouri measure, are so broad that they would appear to outlaw some, if not all, forms of birth control.

Thompson denied that birth control was a target, unless the method would fit his side's interpretation of abortion.

Roundtable tangles again with Lifesaving Cures Coalition

The second initiative petition proposal is the latest from Missouri Roundtable for Life, which previously has submitted more than two dozen similar petition proposals, which were either withdrawn or subject to court challenges.

Roundtable executive director Todd Jones said that this latest petition will be the one actually circulated, unless it too would be blocked by court action.

The proposal seeks 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, including abortions not medically necessary to save the life of the mother, abortion services, and certain types of stem cell research currently allowed under Missouri law..."

Both proposals would overturn some or all of Amendment 2, the state constitutional amendment narrowly approved in 2006 that protects all forms of stem cell research (including embryonic) allowed under federal law. Opponents say such research kills human life.

The leading opponent of the Roundtable petition -- and, likely, the "personhood'' proposal as well -- is the Missouri Coalition for Lifesaving Cures, which is made up of 100 medical, patient advocacy, research and religious groups, foundations or institutions. The coalition bankrolled much of the 2006 campaign in favor of Amendment 2.

Coalition spokesman Jim Goodwin said it is concerned about both initiative petition drives and "reviewing our options."

The coalition long has contended that the efforts by the Roundtable and others to overturn Amendment 2 would lead to fewer medical options for people suffering from various diseases, including cancer and Parkinson's.

Goodwin also pointed to the state auditor's report on the Roundtable proposal, where officials from the city of St. Louis and the University of Missouri said the wording of the ballot measure would put at risk tens of millions of dollars in economic investment and/or federal money.

The "personhood'' proposal, said Goodwin, could have an even greater impact. "It would literally affect thousands of Missouri statutes already in place, because of its definition of "person,'' he said.

Meanwhile, the state's largest anti-abortion group -- Missouri Right to Life -- has yet to take a position on either proposal. State president Pam Fichter said her group first must study the wording.

In any event, both initiative petition proposals will require a lot of legwork to get on next year's ballot.

Both are proposed constitutional amendments which will require signatures from 146,910- 159,360 registered voters from six of nine congressional districts. (The numbers vary depending on the congressional districts).

All Missouri initiative-petition proposals (and there's more than 20 OKed for circulation so far, on a variety of topics) must turn in their signatures by May 2.

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