The Missouri Supreme Court on Thursday ordered the Republican attorney general to stand down and allow an initiative petition to legalize abortion in the state to move forward.
Supreme Court judges unanimously affirmed a lower court’s decision that Attorney General Andrew Bailey must approve the cost estimate provided by the auditor, despite Bailey’s insistence that the cost to taxpayers of restoring abortion rights could be as much as a million times higher than what the auditor found.
Because Bailey refused to approve Republican Auditor Scott Fitzpatrick’s cost estimate, the secretary of state has not been able to give the amendment his stamp of approval that is needed for supporters to begin gathering voter signatures to put it on the ballot in 2024.
In Thursday’s Supreme Court order, judges found that Bailey’s stonewalling meant plaintiff Anna Fitz-James, who was represented by the ACLU of Missouri, lost out on nearly 100 days she could have been collecting signatures.
“Until the official ballot title is certified – a critical step being held up solely by the Attorney General’s unjustified refusal to act – Fitz-James cannot challenge that title in circuit court or circulate her petitions,” judges wrote. “Fitz-James’s constitutional right of initiative petition is being obstructed, and the deadline for submitting signed petitions draws nearer every day.”
ACLU of Missouri Executive Director Luz María Henríquezi in a statement applauded the decision but added that “it is clear that some who hold office will not hesitate to trample the constitution if it advances their personal interests and political beliefs.”
The Supreme Court’s order means the amendment can now move forward in the process.
“We disagree with the Court’s decision, as we believe Missourians deserve to know how much this amendment would cost the state,” attorney general’s office spokeswoman Madeline Sieren said. “But we will respect the Court’s order.”
The proposed amendment would enshrine in the constitution the individual right to make decisions about abortion, childbirth and birth control.
Abortion-rights supporters proposed the amendment after the state banned nearly all abortions when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last summer. The state now allows exceptions for medical emergencies, but not for cases of rape or incest.
Fitzpatrick’s office in March found that the proposal would have no known impact on state funds and an estimated cost of at least $51,000 annually in reduced local tax revenues, although “opponents estimate a potentially significant loss to state revenue.”
Bailey said that the cost estimate was so low it would bias voters and told Fitzpatrick to change it. He argued the state could lose $12.5 billion in Medicaid funding and $51 billion in annual tax revenue because of fewer births.
Fitzpatrick refused to change his estimate.
After the ruling, Fitzpatrick said he will vote against the amendment if it gets on the ballot.
“However my personal stance cannot compromise the duty my office has to provide a fair assessment of their cost to the state,” he said in a statement. “I want to thank the court for protecting a process that had worked for decades without controversy and will now continue to provide Missourians with the impartial information they are entitled to when they go to vote.”