Oct 5, 2017 – Weekly Capitol Update

COURT REVIVES RELIGIOUS CHALLENGE TO ABORTION LAW

A three-judge panel of the Missouri Court of Appeals Western District on Oct. 3 revived a lawsuit alleging certain state abortion regulations violate the religious rights of women seeking to undergo the procedure. The appellate panel said a circuit judge erred in the dismissing the case and ordered the matter transferred to the Missouri Supreme Court, which has exclusive appellate jurisdiction over cases challenging the constitutionality of state laws.

The case, brought by a woman identified in court documents as “Mary Doe,” explores whether provisions of Missouri’s Informed Consent Law unconstitutionally infringe on a woman’s right to freely exercise her religion and constitutes an impermissible establishment of religious doctrine in state law. As the appellate opinion noted, this is an issue neither the state Supreme Court nor its federal counterpart have previously considered.

The challenged provisions include a 72-hour waiting period to obtain an abortion, a requirement for women to undergo a mandatory ultrasound prior to the procedure and another requirement that women review an informational booklet that allegedly contains information promoting an anti-abortion religious view. In dismissing the case, Cole County Circuit Judge Jon Beetem said Doe failed to state a valid legal claim. However, the appellate opinion penned by Judge Thomas Newton said the case “raises real and substantial constitutional claims.”

“Ms. Doe has alleged that Missouri’s Informed Consent Law unconstitutionally fosters an excessive government entanglement with religion in violation of the Establishment Clause,” Newton wrote. “In this regard, she claims that the sole purpose of the law is to indoctrinate pregnant women into the belief held by some, but not all, Christians that a separate and unique human being begins at conception. Because the law does not recognize or include other beliefs, she contends that it establishes an official religion and makes clear that the state disapproves of her beliefs. On preliminary review, we believe that Ms. Doe’s Establishment Clause claim is real and substantial and not merely colorable.”

The court also said that Doe should be able to proceed on her claims that the law’s requirement that she adhere to medically unnecessary regulations violates her right to freely exercise her own religious beliefs. The case is Mary Doe v. Eric Greitens, et al.

 

THREE SPECIAL HOUSE ELECTIONS SET FOR FEB. 6

Special elections to fill three recently vacated state House seats will be held on Feb. 6 under election writs issued by Gov. Eric Greitens on Oct. 4. Special elections to fill two other House vacancies and one in the Senate are already set for Nov. 7, but it was too late under state law to call the other specials for that date.

All three of the February specials are to replace Republicans who recently resigned. The 97th District in northern Jefferson County was left upon after state Rep. John McCaherty of Fenton resigned Sept. 15 to focus on an upcoming campaign for Jefferson County executive. The vacancy in 129th District covering Dallas County and western Laclede County was created after state Rep. Sandy Crawford of Buffalo won an August special election for a state Senate seat. State Rep. Paul Fitzwater of Potosi resigned his 144th District seat, which includes Iron County and parts of Reynolds, Washington and Wayne counties, on Sept. 20 after being appointed to the Missouri Board of Probation and Parole.

The House vacancies to be filled in November are in the 23rd District in Kansas City, which was last held by state Rep. Randy Dunn, a Democrat, and the 151st District covering Stoddard County and western Scott County and previously served by state Rep. Tila Hubrecht, R-Dexter. The Senate’s 8th District seat, left open after state Sen. Will Kraus, R-Lee’s Summit, was appointed to the State Tax Commission on July 31.