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Judge weighs Missouri GOP dispute over estimated cost of allowing abortions

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Two top Republican state officials argued Wednesday over how much it would cost Missouri to restore the right to abortion, with the state attorney general insisting that the figure should account for lost revenue that wouldn’t be collected from people who otherwise would be born.

The issue came up during a trial over a proposed ballot measure that would let voters decide in 2024 whether to amend the state constitution to guarantee abortion rights.

Abortions were almost completely banned in Missouri following the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2022 decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. There are exceptions for medical emergencies, but not for cases of rape or incest.

Supporters are trying to put a proposed amendment before voters next year that would protect abortion rights and pregnant women, as well as access to birth control.

But the effort stalled in April because of a spat between Auditor Scott Fitzpatrick and newly appointed Attorney General Andrew Bailey, who argues that the cost could be far greater than what his Republican peer estimated.

ACLU of Missouri lawyer Tony Rothert told Beetem on Wednesday that his clients at the abortion rights campaign are stuck in limbo because the two officeholders are at an impasse, and that the campaign can’t begin collecting voter signatures without an official fiscal note.

“If we sit around and wait indefinitely, then that defeats the right of initiative,” Rothert said.

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 contends that the cost would be closer to between $12.5 billion and $51 billion because of potential violations of federal Medicaid laws and lost tax revenue from fewer citizens — people who would be born if abortion weren’t an option — and he directed Fitzpatrick to change the cost estimate to reflect that.

But Fitzpatrick refused, arguing that a multibillion-dollar projection for the initiative petition is 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.”

In the past, Missouri auditors have analyzed potential costs of ballot measures and attorneys general have approved those estimates without issue.

Lawyers for Fitzpatrick argued on Wednesday that the attorney general does not have the authority to second-guess the auditor’s financial expertise and that allowing the attorney general to demand changes could theoretically result in “a never-ending cycle” of revisions.

The attorney general’s office argued that Bailey’s role goes beyond approving whatever price tag the auditor calculates.

“There’s no rubber-stamping involved,” said Jason Lewis, of the attorney general’s office. “Otherwise, why have the process at all?”

Cole County Presiding Judge Jon Beetem is not expected to rule on the case until June 14 at the earliest.

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