The American Civil Liberties Union, hoping to repeal a new Missouri law that bans abortions at eight weeks of pregnancy, on Monday asked an appellate court panel to let it begin collecting signatures that would put the matter to a public vote.

The Missouri branch’s acting executive director, Tony Rothert, told a three-judge panel of the state’s Court of Appeals that it had been premature for GOP Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft to reject petitions by it and prominent Republican donor David Humphreys to put the law on the 2020 ballot. Humphreys has cited the lack of exceptions for rape and incest in his opposition to the policy, which does include exceptions for medical emergencies.

Rothert said he wants the process of collecting the more than 100,000 required signatures to begin by July 18. Rothert said after the hearing that the petition-gathering process needs to be completed before Aug. 28, when most new laws in Missouri automatically take effect, including the ban on abortions at eight weeks of pregnancy.

“We are optimistic,” he said after the hearing, noting that petition-gatherers are being trained in the hope that the panel rules in the ACLU’s favor.

At issue is how the Republican-led Legislature voted to classify a section of the bill that changed the law to make both parents consent to abortions for minors in most cases. Because lawmakers made it an “emergency clause,” it took effect as soon as Republican Gov. Mike Parson signed it into law.

Under Missouri law, there is no right for a referendum when the law is addressing an emergency. The ACLU contends that parental consent isn’t actually an emergency, while the law said it is “because of the need to protect the health and safety of women and their children, both unborn and born.”

The emergency issue is what led Ashcroft to reject the petitions.

“We feel very strongly, that the people’s right to referendum can’t be so easily and effectively quashed by the legislature,” Rothert said, while adding that it was too soon to consider that issue until the measure goes on the ballot.

The legal dispute over the abortion law comes as the state’s only abortion clinic fights its own court battle to continue providing the service, despite a licensing dispute with the state health department.

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