Missouri Supreme Court Strikes Down Secretary of State’s Abortion Ballot Language

Missouri Supreme Court Strikes Down Secretary of State’s Abortion Ballot Language

The appeal regarding the wording of a ballot question on access to abortion in Missouri has been rejected by the state’s Supreme Court. Currently, Missouri only permits abortion in cases of medical emergency, but advocates for broader access to the procedure are aiming to put the question directly before voters in the upcoming year. In the seven states where abortion has been on the ballot since the Supreme Court’s ruling on Roe v. Wade, voters have consistently either supported protecting abortion rights or rejected attempts to undermine them.

Both sides in Missouri are grappling with how to phrase the question that could potentially appear on the ballot. Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft has suggested asking voters whether they are in favor of permitting “dangerous and unregulated abortions until live birth.” However, a state appeals court deemed this wording politically biased. Ashcroft appealed against the decision, but the Missouri Supreme Court refused to hear his argument on Monday.

Summaries are used on Missouri’s ballots to help voters comprehend complex constitutional amendments and other proposals. Ashcroft, who is running for governor in 2024, claims that his wording “fairly and accurately reflects the scope and magnitude” of the proposed abortion rights measures. He stated in a press release, “My responsibility as secretary of state is to make sure the people of Missouri have ballot language that they can understand and trust. If these petitions make it to the ballot, the people will decide. I will continue to do everything in my power to make sure Missourians know the truth.”

The ACLU of Missouri released a statement asserting that the repeated rejection of the Secretary of State’s arguments confirms that his case lacks legal merit.

Jay Ashcroft is the son of John Ashcroft, a former governor, U.S. senator, and U.S. attorney general under President George W. Bush. Jay Ashcroft is one of four Republicans who have announced their candidacy for governor next year.

The original description of the proposed abortion amendments, which could potentially appear on the 2024 ballot if enough voter signatures are gathered, would have asked voters whether they want to “allow for dangerous, unregulated, and unrestricted abortions, from conception to live birth, without requiring a medical license or potentially being subject to medical malpractice.” However, an appeals court panel in October concluded that permitting unrestricted abortion “during all nine months of pregnancy is not a probable effect of initiatives.” The panel largely upheld summaries written by a lower court judge, which were designed to be more impartial. These summaries inform voters that the amendments would “establish a right to make decisions about reproductive health care, including abortion and contraceptives” and “remove Missouri’s ban on abortion.”

Currently, Missouri’s law considers most abortions a felony, punishable by five to 15 years in prison for those who perform or induce them. Medical professionals who violate the law could also lose their licenses. However, women who undergo abortions are not subject to prosecution.

Earlier this month, Ohio voters approved a constitutional amendment guaranteeing access to abortion and other forms of reproductive health care.

Measures to protect abortion access will appear on the 2024 ballots in Maryland and New York. Legislative efforts and petition drives are also underway in various other states. Some states, such as Arizona, Florida, Nevada, and South Dakota, are working to protect or expand access to abortion, while others like Iowa, Nebraska, and Pennsylvania are seeking to restrict it. Colorado is witnessing drives for both types of measures.