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story.lead_photo.caption FILE - In this June 28, 2019 file photo, Ashlyn Myers of the Coalition for Life St. Louis, waves to a Planned Parenthood staff member in St. Louis, Mo. The Trump administration has told federally-funded family planning clinics it may be willing to delay enforcement of a controversial rule that bars them from referring women for abortions. (Robert Cohen/St. Louis Post-Dispatch via AP)

Missouri's top election official says abortion-rights advocates can start collecting signatures to get a public vote on a new law restricting abortions.

But advocates say Republican Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft's Wednesday decision leaves them with only two weeks to collect enough signatures.

The law would ban abortions after eight weeks of pregnancy. It includes an exception for medical emergencies, but not rape or incest.

Supporters of the Missouri Stands for the Unborn Act say eight weeks is when a doctor first can hear the developing baby's heartbeat. Opponents say most women don't know they're pregnant at eight weeks.

The bill contains no exceptions for women who want to end a pregnancy caused by rape or incest.

Robin Utz is treasurer of a political action committee pushing to put the new abortion law to a public vote. She said Ashcroft dragged his feet and has left the group with the "impossible task" of collecting roughly 100,000 signatures in time.

The ACLU must gather about 100,000 signatures from at least six of the state's eight congressional districts in order to get a referendum vote on next year's August or November general election ballot. But the state Constitution demands those signatures be submitted to Ashcroft's office no later than Aug. 28 — the date the law is to go into effect.

Under the general procedure, if signatures are submitted, the law is put on hold until the local election authorities determine the validity of the signatures. If there are enough valid signatures, the law remains on hold until the statewide vote.

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