Top Missouri Republicans spar in court over ballot measure to restore abortion rights

Missouri Republican Attorney General Andrew Bailey overstepped his authority when he attempted to inflate the estimated cost of a ballot measure to restore abortion rights, an attorney for Republican Auditor Scott Fitzpatrick argued in Cole County court Wednesday.

Rob Tillman, an attorney representing Fitzpatrick’s office, and Tony Rothert, an attorney representing the ACLU of Missouri, both argued Wednesday that Bailey’s role in trying to craft the fiscal note for the abortion rights petition was illegal.

Bailey has rejected Fitzpatrick’s fiscal note that the ballot measure would have no cost to the state. The attorney general has argued that it should include a projected loss of $12.5 billion in Medicaid dollars — a figure pushed by anti-abortion groups that Fitzpatrick says is inaccurate.

“The attorney general has no more than a perfunctory ministerial role in the fiscal note process for initiative petitions,” Tillman told Cole County Judge Jon Beetem. “No attorney general has ever attempted to exercise this level of discretion.”

Jason Lewis, an attorney with Bailey’s office, in response, argued that Bailey was following state law when his office refused to approve Fitzpatrick’s fiscal note.

“Of the three remaining parties in the room, only one of them has actually followed his duties under the statutes and that is the attorney general,” Lewis said. “He has done his job.”

The sparring between the lawyers for two statewide Republican officials happened during a bench trial Wednesday in front of Cole County Judge Jon Beetem. The ACLU of Missouri filed suit last month against Bailey, Fitzpatrick and Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft to force them to finish finalizing the ballot initiative.

None of the three statewide Republicans appeared in court on Wednesday.

At issue are 11 versions of a state constitutional amendment that would restore abortion rights in Missouri, where the procedure is almost entirely banned. Anna Fitz-James, a retired St. Louis doctor, submitted the proposals in March.

The standoff has delayed Missouri in finalizing the initiative petition, preventing supporters from gathering signatures, an arduous, expensive and time-intensive process.

The civil liberties group is accusing Bailey of attempting to coerce Fitzpatrick into submitting a fiscal note with inaccurate information. Rothert, the ACLU attorney, on Wednesday referred to Bailey’s projections as “bananagrams.”

Bailey doubled down on his proposed fiscal note and his authority to review it in a statement to The Star.

“The state of Missouri stands to lose billions of dollars if one of these petitions becomes law, and Missourians deserve to know the cost when they go to the ballot box,” he said. “Missouri statute clearly directs my office to substantively review the impact of initiative petitions, and that’s exactly what we did here.”

Beetem, the judge, said Wednesday that the parties would have until next Wednesday to draft proposed judgments before he makes a ruling. Beetem also agreed to dismiss Ashcroft from the suit, saying that his office would be unable to complete work on the ballot measure until the fiscal note dispute is resolved.

Tori Schafer, the deputy director for policy and campaigns at the ACLU of Missouri, told reporters after the trial that the Republican officeholders were deliberately delaying the abortion petition.

“We all know why they want to deprive retired pediatrician Dr. Anna Fitz-James her constitutional right to the initiative process,” Schafer said. “They are scared — scared to let Missourians exercise their right to vote on reproductive freedom.”