by Steven Ertelt
March 30, 2006
Jefferson City, MO (LifeNews.com) — A three judge panel of the Missouri Court of Appeals has issued a ruling upholding the misleading language in a November referendum asking voters to support embryonic stem cell research. The initiative claims to ban human cloning, but actually only prohibits human cloning for reproductive but not research purposes.
Pro-life groups, led by the Bioethics Defense Fund and Missourians Against Human Cloning sued Secretary of State Robin Carnahan (D), saying the proposal’s title and summary are misleading.
In the decision, written by Judge Victor Howard, the appeals panel said state law allows the initiative’s sponsor, Missouri Coalition for Lifesaving Cures, to set definitions.
Howard wrote that the "[a]ppellants’ real dispute seems not so much with the summary statement as it is with the initiative’s definition of human cloning," adding that the "appellants ask us to choose their definition of human cloning over that set out in the initiative. We decline."
The ruling said state law requires the wording to be clear and concise but not necessarily the best possible wording.
"The people of Missouri must not be duped into supporting the deceptive initiative," Nikolas Nikas, president and general counsel of the Bioethics Defense Fund, told LifeNews.com.
Nikas added, "notwithstanding the Court of Appeals’ 2-1 decision, Missouri voters need to know that this initiative creates a constitutional right to clone human lives to destroy them for experimentation."
The Alliance Defense Fund, a pro-life law firm representing the groups, told the Kansas City Star it is considering whether to appeal to the Missouri Supreme Court. It may also wait and challenge the proposal once it achieves ballot status.
"We believe voters have the right not to be deceived," attorney Joel Oster told the newspaper.
Dorinda Bordlee, senior counsel for BDF, added, "Our legal team representing Missourians Against Human Cloning are evaluating further appeals."
Judge James Smart partly dissented from the ruling, saying that he would allow the language to remain to collect signatures, but the term "cloning" should be defined more clearly if the proposal goes to the ballot.
"The ballot summary, standing alone, does not provide sufficient reference or context to clarify the meaning of the phrase and will tend to mislead those who are philosophically opposed to all nuclear transfer," Smart wrote.
The decision allows the pro-human cloning group to continue to collect the 145,000 signatures needed to qualify for the November ballot. Those signatures must come from six of the nine congressional districts.
The ruling upheld a decision by Cole County Senior Judge Byron Kinder in January who determined the ballot wording is "sufficient and fair and the language is neutral."