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Missouri judge orders end to GOP officials' standoff over proposed abortion rights ballot measure

Attorney General-Missouri
Posted at 12:35 PM, Jun 20, 2023

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — A constitutional amendment to restore abortion rights in Missouri will move forward after a judge on Tuesday broke a standoff between two Republican officials that had halted the process.

Cole County Presiding Judge Jon Beetem ordered Attorney General Andrew Bailey to approve fellow Republican Auditor Scott Fitzpatrick's estimated $51,000 price tag on the proposal within 24 hours.

Bailey had refused to approve the price estimate, arguing that if the proposal were to succeed, it could cost the state as much as a million times more than that figure because of lost Medicaid funding or lost revenue that wouldn't be collected from people who otherwise would be born.

But Beetem said Bailey has "no authority to substitute his own judgment for that of the Auditor."

"There is an absolute absence of authority to conclude the Attorney General is permitted to send the Auditor's fiscal note summary back to revision simply because he disagrees with the Auditor's estimated cost or savings of a proposed measure," Beetem wrote in his ruling.

A spokesperson said the attorney general's office will appeal.

If approved by voters, the proposal would enshrine in the constitution the individual right to make decisions about abortion, childbirth and birth control.

Missouri's Republican-led Legislature and Republican governor banned nearly all abortions after 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.

In Missouri, the auditor is required to calculate how much taxpayer money it could cost to implement ballot measures. The attorney general then reviews and approves the cost estimate in an administrative step that historically has been uneventful.

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 cost estimate was so low it would bias voters and told Fitzpatrick to change it.

Fitzpatrick refused, arguing that a multibillion-dollar projection for the initiative petition would be inaccurate, despite Fitzpatrick's personal opposition to abortion.

"As much as I would prefer to be able to say this IP would result in a loss to the state of Missouri of $12.5 billion in federal funds, it wouldn't," Fitzpatrick wrote in an April 21 letter to Bailey. "To submit a fiscal note summary that I know contains inaccurate information would violate my duty as State Auditor to produce an accurate fiscal note summary."

The standoff had blocked the secretary of state from allowing the pro-abortion rights campaign to start collecting signatures from voters. The campaign would need to collect signatures from 8% of legal voters in six of the state's eight congressional districts in order to get the proposal on the 2024 ballot.

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For more AP coverage of the abortion issue: https://apnews.com/hub/abortion

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