Missouri Republican lawmakers sue over estimated cost of abortion rights ballot measure

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Two Missouri Republican lawmakers and a prominent anti-abortion activist filed a lawsuit Monday challenging the estimated cost of several proposed ballot measures to restore abortion rights.

The lawsuit’s plaintiffs include state Rep. Hannah Kelly, a Mountain Grove Republican, state Sen. Mary Elizabeth Coleman, an Arnold Republican, and Kathy Forck, an anti-abortion activist from New Bloomfield. The lawsuit was filed in Cole County.

Their complaint challenges a series of fiscal notes that Republican Auditor Scott Fitzpatrick prepared for the proposed ballot measures estimating that they would have no cost to the state. The lawsuit argues that restoring abortion in Missouri would cost billions to the state and cause local governments to lose millions — figures pushed by anti-abortion groups that Fitzpatrick has said are inaccurate.

“The proposed amendments would allow the destruction of thousands of pre-born Missouri citizens a year, with profound consequences to Missourians that far eclipse financial Concerns,” the complaint said. “As part of the initiative petition process, however, the State Auditor is legally tasked with the grim calculation of the financial costs to Missouri from this enormous human loss.”

Fitzpatrick, in an interview with The Star on Tuesday, touted his anti-abortion views, saying he wished he could submit fiscal notes estimating a huge financial loss to the state. But he said he has a duty to submit accurate information.

“This is not a question to me about who’s the most pro-life. I just have a job to do as auditor to present to voters the most accurate information possible when they’re voting on something,” he said, adding that he had only read roughly half of the lawsuit.

Abortion rights supporters on Monday painted the complaint as an attempt by Republicans to halt the abortion rights petition from reaching the ballot. Some Republicans have acknowledged that a measure restoring abortion access would have support from a majority of Missourians if it were on the ballot.

Tom Bastian, a spokesperson for the ACLU of Missouri, in a statement pointed to the fact that Republican Attorney General Andrew Bailey pushed the same estimates argued in the lawsuit before he was shot down in the Missouri Supreme Court last month.

“This is another attempt by power-obsessed politicians to prevent Missourians from voting on reproductive rights,” Bastian said Monday. “The bogus lawsuit parrots the already court-rejected claims of the Attorney General.”

Mallory Schwarz, the executive director of Abortion Action Missouri, an abortion rights advocacy group formerly called Pro-Choice Missouri, criticized the complaint in an email Monday.

“These women who claim to be advocates for families are blatantly ignoring the facts— denying access to abortions has long term and inter generational consequences,” the statement said in part. “Abortion access ensures economic stability for families, communities, and entire states.”

Fitzpatrick and Republican Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft, who is also named as a defendant, did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Monday.

Ashcroft, a candidate for governor in 2024, faces a separate lawsuit from the ACLU of Missouri for drafting misleading language for the proposed ballot measures that would ask voters to “allow for dangerous, unregulated, and unrestricted abortions.” A trial in that case is scheduled for Sept. 11.

Monday’s lawsuit represents another legal hurdle for abortion rights supporters who are looking to get a version of the measure on the ballot in 2024 and illustrates a sustained effort by Republicans to stop the measure from moving forward.

Last month, the state’s high court ruled that Bailey had overstepped his authority when he refused to sign off on Fitzpatrick’s estimates. Bailey had also argued that the measures should include a projected loss of $12.5 billion in Medicaid dollars to the state.

At issue are 11 versions of a state constitutional amendment that would restore abortion rights in Missouri. Anna Fitz-James, a retired St. Louis doctor, submitted the proposals in March. The legal standoffs have prevented supporters from gathering signatures to get a version of the measure on the ballot, an arduous, expensive and time-intensive process.

Fitzpatrick’s fiscal notes for the petitions state that the measures would have no cost to the state. The estimates do say that local governments estimate at least $51,000 in reduced tax revenues, based on an estimate from Greene County.

Monday’s lawsuit pushes back on this projection, arguing that Fitzpatrick failed to include estimates pushed by anti-abortion groups that legalizing abortion could cause the state to lose billions in Medicaid money.

The lawsuit also argues that Fitzpatrick should have applied Greene County’s estimates to the entire state, finding that local governments could lose millions each year.

“Our legal challenge to the fiscal note is not about individual officeholders, but about the omission of the true fiscal costs to individual Missourians with measures that could imperil their financial futures, and cost the state billions of dollars in health care funding,” Kelly, Coleman and Forck said in a joint statement Monday.

This story has been updated to include comments from Missouri Auditor Scott Fitzpatrick.