UPDATE: On Monday, Nov. 20, the Missouri Supreme Court denied Republicans’ appeal, keeping the lower court’s decision in effect.
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Yesterday, a state appeals court in Missouri unanimously ruled against titles for six reproductive rights ballot proposals written by Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft (R), determining they were “replete with politically partisan language.”
The setback was just the latest of many for Missouri Republicans, who have launched an effort to thwart and distort the proposals.
The handful of proposals were submitted by a doctor in March, and would create a state constitutional right to reproductive freedom, including the right to an abortion, if approved by voters in November 2024. In July, ballot titles for the proposals, written by Ashcroft, were certified by the trial court. Ballot titles consist of a summary statement prepared by the secretary of state and a fiscal note summary prepared by the state auditor.
In late September, a trial court judge ruled that the portions of the summary statements were “argumentative or do not fairly describe the purpose or probable effect of the initiatives.”
Additionally, the court found that the summaries’ failure to reference reproductive health care beyond abortion was “insufficient,” and ordered the summary statements to be redrafted. The new statements, drafted by the same judge who ruled against the original summary, were certified and Ashcroft subsequently appealed the ruling, which was affirmed on Tuesday.
In Tuesday’s decision, the appeals court largely upheld the lower court’ ruling, finding that “the summary statements drafted by” the lower court “are sufficient and fair,” with minor exceptions. The court also defended the trial court judge’s decision to rewrite all of the ballot titles, ruling that so much of Ashcroft’s initial summaries was misleading or partisan in nature that the court was left with “largely unworkable summary statements.”
The ACLU of Missouri lauded Tuesday’s decision, saying “the courts upheld Missourians’ constitutional right to direct democracy over the self-serving attacks of politicians desperately seeking to climb the political ladder.”
Ashcroft has stated he will appeal Tuesday’s ruling.
Also on Tuesday, a separate three-judge panel ruled on the second part of the proposals process: the fiscal note. After Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey (R) refused to certify the fiscal note in July, the appeals court upheld the summary written by State Auditor Scott Fitzpatrick (R), ruling that the language was “fair and sufficient.” A fiscal note is a written summary estimating the financial effect of proposed legislation.
In anticipation of potential abortion rights proposals and following the successful passage of a marijuana legalization amendment last year, Missouri Republicans had tried to pass a law earlier this year that would raise the threshold for voter-approved constitutional amendments to 60%, as opposed to a simple majority. The Missouri House later passed an amended version of the bill to raise the threshold to 57%, but the Missouri Senate failed to move forward on the legislation before it adjourned, and the bill ultimately died.
The events are eerily similar to efforts by Ohio Republicans to prevent an upcoming abortion rights amendment from passing when it goes to voters this November. Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose (R) and other state Republicans spearheaded a proposal, Issue 1, that would have raised the threshold to pass ballot initiatives from 50% to 60%. Voters resoundingly defeated the amendment in an August special election where the proposal lost by 14 points.
The Ohio Ballot Board, controlled by Republicans, later approved summary language for the November reproductive amendment written by LaRose that many argued was misleading, with one Ohio reproductive freedom group calling the language “propaganda.” A lawsuit filed by Ohioans United for Reproductive Rights and voters challenged the language for being false and misleading, but the Ohio Supreme Court largely upheld the summary, ordering just a small tweak.