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Judge sides with Carnahan in suit over anti-abortion ballot language

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, April 22, 2009 - Secretary of State Robin Carnahan has apparently won the latest round of the ongoing legal fight over her wording of the ballot summary for an initiative petition drive aimed at banning the use of public funds for any type of abortion-related services or human cloning -- the latter including some sorts of embryonic stem cell research now allowed under Amendment 2.

Cole County Circuit Judge Patricia Joyce ruled Wednesday in favor of  Carnahan's wording, saying it met the “important and only test ... whether the language fairly and impartially summarizes the purposes of the measure, so that the voters will not be deceived or misled.”

Joyce also said, “The Secretary of State prepared a summary statement that is fair and sufficient as it promoted an informed understanding of the probable effect of the proposed initiative petition.”

Said Carnahan: “I am pleased that the court’s ruling found the ballot summary language prepared by my office is ‘fair and sufficient.’ I have remained confident throughout this process that the language we wrote for the initiative is an impartial and accurate description of the proposal.

"Missourians deserve to be able to clearly understand what they are voting on, and I will continue to work to ensure fairness and integrity in all aspects of the elections process,” Carnahan added.

But the group who brought suit -- the Missouri Roundtable for Life -- is furious, and adds that it may appeal.

“This ruling is typical of a tyrannical judiciary in bed with elected officials. Clearly, this judge believes that Robin Carnahan has dictatorial powers to write whatever summary statement she wants to write without any checks and balances,” said Todd Jones, the Roundtable's executive director.

Jones asserted that Joyce's decision allowed "Carnahan to insert her own personal views and her own political agenda into the citizens’ initiative petition process..."

Roundtable officials acknowledged during a telephone news conference earlier this week that Carnahan's wording could really hurt their chances of persuading voters to approve their ban, should it make the 2010 ballot.

Their own poll showed a swing of more than 10 percentage points, when Carnahan's wording is compared the group's preferred wording. Potential voters were far more likely to vote against the initiative when it had Carnahan's summary language.

Here's Carnahan's language:

Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended 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?

Here is the Roundtable's language:

It shall be unlawful to expend, pay, or grant any public funds for abortion services, human cloning, or prohibited human research, as such terms were defined by the 92nd Missouri general assembly in 2003, in Revised Statutes of Missouri Section 196.1127, L.2003, H.B. 688

In the conference call with reporters, Roundtable officials said Carnahan's reference to a ban on services "to save the life of the mother'' was "the poison pill'' that turned voters against the proposal.

The Missouri Coalition for Lifesaving Cures, the chief group that successfully campaigned for Amendment 2 in 2006, is pleased with the ruling.

“While we believe their ballot measure would cause even greater damage than the Secretary of State describes in her summary, today’s ruling reaffirms that voters are owed a fair description of what the measure would really do,” said Donn Rubin, chairman of the Missouri Coalition for Lifesaving Cures.

"Among other things," the coalition said, "the ballot proposal would negatively impact the ability of public hospitals, universities and other institutions to apply for and receive federal grants."

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.

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