Missouri appeals court tosses ‘partisan’ summaries of abortion rights ballot measures

A Missouri appeals court on Tuesday rejected an effort by top Republicans to officially describe several proposed ballot measures as allowing “dangerous” abortions.

The court also tossed out a conservative challenge to a fiscal summary of the measures prepared by Missouri State Auditor Scott Fitzpatrick, a Republican. Critics of the summary said the estimated cost of the measures – at least $51,000 a year – was far too low.

The cases are almost certain to end up in front of the Missouri Supreme Court.

Supporters of abortion access have filed several similar initiative petitions, which would amend the state constitution to add abortion rights, after Missouri became the first state to implement a near-total ban after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last year. If one of the ballot measures pass, Missouri could be the first state since the end of Roe where voters repeal a ban.

A three-judge panel of the Missouri Court of Appeals Western District unanimously rejected an appeal from Republican Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft, who sought to reimpose his original summaries after a Cole County judge rewrote them last month. Ashcroft’s summaries say the petitions would “allow for dangerous, unregulated, and unrestricted abortions.”

“The Secretary’s summary statements are replete with politically partisan language,” the judges wrote, stating Cole County Circuit Judge Jon Beetem was correct in striking them down.

The decision came just a day after oral arguments were held in Kansas City – a lightning-fast pace for an appeals court opinion.

Ashcroft, who is running for governor, in a statement said that the court “refused to allow the truth to be known.”

“Not only is the language misleading but it is categorically false,” Ashcroft said of the current summaries of the petitions. “We stand by our language and believe it fairly and accurately reflects the scope and magnitude of each petition.”

Proponents of the measure have said they would allow medical professionals to make decisions about reproductive health care, including abortion.

“Today, the courts upheld Missourians’ constitutional right to direct democracy over the self-serving attacks of politicians desperately seeking to climb the political ladder,” the ACLU of Missouri, which defended the summaries in court, said in a statement.

While Ashcroft’s summary refers to allowing “dangerous” abortions, the appeals court judges in Tuesday’s decision approved a summary that says the measures would “establish a right to make decisions about reproductive health care, including abortion and contraceptives, with any governmental interference presumed invalid” and that they would overturn the state’s ban on abortion.

A separate panel of judges also ruled against three abortion opponents who challenged how much Republican Auditor Scott Fitzpatrick estimated the petitions would cost.

Fitzpatrick’s fiscal note says state government agencies estimate no costs or savings and that local governments estimated cost of “at least $51,000 annually in reduced tax revenues, but unknown impact.”

The abortion opponents, which include two Republican lawmakers, argued that the proposals could cost the state billions.

The judges ruled on Tuesday that Fitzpatrick’s estimates were “fair and sufficient.”