Missouri Anti-Abortion Groups Seem to Think Missourians Are Super Dumb

Abortion rights organizers are collecting signatures for a ballot measure, and a coalition of anti-abortion groups is trying to convince voters that these "out-of-town strangers" are trying to scam and defraud them.

Missouri Anti-Abortion Groups Seem to Think Missourians Are Super Dumb
People in Missouri protest the state’s eight-week abortion ban in May 2019. Missouri has since passed a total abortion ban. Photo: Shutterstock

As Missouri reproductive rights organizers scramble to collect the 172,000 signatures needed by May 5 to get their abortion rights measure on the November ballot, a coalition of anti-abortion groups is relying on some truly mind-boggling levels of disinformation to try and stop them. On Monday, local news outlet KOMU reported that these groups, who call themselves the Decline to Sign campaign, are texting Missouri voters and saying that local abortion rights organizers are extremists from other states who are just trying to steal their personal data. One text reads, “Out-of-town strangers are trying to collect your sensitive personal data for extremist groups. … Don’t give them your personal info on a petition. Protect yourself from fraud & theft!”

“Anti-abortion extremists continue to lie and spread disinformation because they know Missourians are fired up and ready to turn out to support our campaign,” Tori Schafer, a spokesperson for Missouri Constitutional Freedom, the group leading the effort to collect signatures, told Jezebel. “These text messages are not only false but a blatant attempt to sow fear and confusion among voters.”

Signing in support of a ballot measure requires voters to give their name, address, and signature, which the secretary of state’s office then reviews and validates in order to count the signature. That’s just how the process works, for any prospective ballot measure, about any topic, in any state.

Of course, if you want to talk about sharing “personal data with strangers,” we could get into how anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers target abortion seekers by pretending to offer abortion services, then collect and store highly sensitive information about their pregnancies and health, and then harass and contact them incessantly to try and stop them from having abortions. We could also talk about the climate of increased surveillance, and how anti-abortion groups are endangering patients and doctors by trying to collect as much information about them as possible. Oh, the irony.

Stephanie Bell, spokesperson for the ironically named anti-abortion group Missouri Stands with Women, told KOMU their goal is to educate Missouri voters about the supposed, associated privacy risks of signing in support of the abortion rights measure. “If someone were to go to make an open records request or a Sunshine Law request, (a person’s personal) information would be available to any member of the public who wants that information,” she said. Cool story! Except everything that signature-gatherers are collecting is public information anyway!

The hypocrisy of anti-abortion tactics isn’t anything new. But the shamelessness of this dishonesty is pretty stark, even from a movement that’s relied heavily on misinformation to fight the mass popularity of abortion rights ballot measures across the country ever since Roe v. Wade was overturned.

In Missouri, in particular, Republican officials have tried to stop the abortion rights ballot measure for months now. In the fall, Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey (R) obstructed the measure by pushing the baseless claim that it would cost upwards of $12 billion to put it on the ballot because a right to abortion would decimate the workforce and tank the state’s economy. Then, the state’s Republican secretary of state, Jay Ashcroft, wrote a summary of the proposed measure lying that it would allow abortion “up until birth.” All of this legal back-and-forth delayed reproductive rights organizers from being able to begin collecting signatures for months.

In other states, we’ve seen similar, underhanded efforts from anti-abortion politicians and organizers. Florida’s Republican attorney general also tried to stop an abortion rights measure from qualifying for the November ballot by lying that the measure is unclear about whether it would allow abortion after “viability,” which isn’t even a medically precise term. Last year, Ohio Republican officials repeatedly tried to sabotage an ultimately successful abortion rights ballot measure by deploying a range of blatant voter suppression tactics. And for months in Arizona, anti-abortion organizers tried to fight an abortion rights ballot measure by coordinating efforts to stalk, harass, and surveil reproductive rights organizers as they tried to collect signatures.

It bears worth repeating: This is only happening because anti-abortion politicians and organizations know how unpopular their cause is, and that voters everywhere are rejecting forced pregnancy and birth. If your cause had real support, you simply wouldn’t have to lie this blatantly—or at all.

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