JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Missouri election officials are defending how they handled a petition to put new abortion restrictions to a public vote.

Abortion-rights advocates have slammed Republican Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft for dragging his feet.

But Ashcroft spokeswoman Maura Browning on Wednesday said the office met legal deadlines and certified the petition five days early.

Abortion-rights advocates are hoping voters will overturn the new law banning abortions at or after eight weeks of pregnancy, with exceptions for medical emergencies.

They say Ashcroft stalled in handling the petition, leaving them with only two weeks to collect enough signatures to block the law from taking effect Aug. 28.

But Browning says advocates could have significantly sped the process by filing the petition 11 days earlier, before Gov. Mike Parson signed it .