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story.lead_photo.caption With the theme of Friday's pro-choice rally being "don't trash our vote," Holly Bickmeyer, a volunteer with the ACLU, empties the box of ballots into the trash can to emphasize that point. Nearly two dozen supporters were in attendance Friday during the noon rally in the Capitol Rotunda, an event that was hosted by multiple pro-choice organizations. Photo by Julie Smith / News Tribune.

Don't trash our votes — Several residents from across the state, including in Jefferson City, wanted to convey that message during pro-choice rallies Friday.

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More than two dozen gathered inside the Missouri state Capitol to rally for safe and legal abortions, as well as encourage voters to vote out elected officials who "trash our votes," said Holly Bickmeyer, an American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri volunteer.

Attendees filled out voter registration pledge cards and mock ballots before putting them in a red, white and blue box. Bickmeyer then poured the cards and ballots into the trash as the crowd's chant, "Don't trash our votes," echoed off the Rotunda walls.

Bickmeyer said the action symbolized how Missouri Secretary of State John Ashcroft was "denying us our right to a citizens' veto."

Last month, the Missouri Supreme Court denied the ACLU-Missouri's request to hear an appeal of its challenge to parts of the Western District appeals court's ruling. This meant the Western District ruling — that Ashcroft had overstepped his authority in rejecting the ACLU's proposed referendum petition — still stands.

Ashcroft previously said he would follow the appellate court's ruling and prepare the proposed ballot summary statement before forwarding it to the attorney general's office. But he did not provide a timeline.

The deadline for the referendum is Aug. 28, the date House Bill 126 takes effect. The bill, also known as the "fetal heartbeat bill," prohibits all abortions in the state — except when the mother's health is in danger — at about eight weeks of pregnancy.

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The Missouri Legislature passed the bill in early May, and Gov. Mike Parson signed it into law shortly after.

The ACLU is worried Ashcroft is "running out the clock," Bickmeyer said, making it difficult for the ACLU to gather 100,000 signatures to get a referendum vote on next year's August or November general election ballot.

"With Secretary Ashcroft not giving us the opportunity to have a say on it, he's just trashing our votes," she said. "It hurts my heart that that is where we're at this point, but that symbolism is important to me, and it's important to the ACLU because it's not just symbolism; it's literally what's happening. He's trashing our constitutionally guaranteed right to have a vote on it, to be the final vote on it."

A spokeswoman with Ashcroft's office said the office did not wish to comment on the rally.

Bickmeyer said the ACLU will most likely be unable to gather the needed signatures by the deadline. Instead, the organization is encouraging people to register to vote.

"We had a lot of people reach out to the ACLU saying, 'We want to collect signatures to put this on the ballot. We care enough about this to do that,'" she said. "Since this is not looking they're going to get the opportunity to do that, what we're hoping is people will still be engaged and, frankly, angry enough about the situation to say, 'Well, maybe I can't get 10 signatures to put it on the ballot, but I can register 10 voters and make sure they show up and vote these people who are pulling this stuff out.'"

Renee Hoagenson — who ran last year as a Democrat for Missouri's 4th Congressional District and lost to current U.S. Rep. Vicky Hartzler, a Republican — said the fetal heartbeat bill oppresses women, and Republicans "want to spread this story that Democrats are pro-abortion."

"I just want to say, as a Catholic, that could not be further from the truth," she said as the audience gave her a round of applause. "I think that it's very important to understand that this is about who gets to make the tough decisions; this is about choice. This is about when a 14-year-old child is raped, who gets to decide what her life then becomes. I personally believe that those choices should remain with the woman — in this case, my example, the child — her family, her doctor."

Jefferson City resident Michael Lester said he attended the rally because "the people need to have a voice."

"This is another example where people's voices need to be heard," Lester said. "It's crazy to have legislation that basically distrusts women and distrusts the medical profession. They're not even allowing abortions in instances of rape and incest. That's absurd. We need to have our voice."

There were also protests and voter registration drives Friday in St. Louis, Kansas City and Springfield.

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