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Missouri auditor declares victory after plaintiffs drop suit over cost of abortion petition

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Missouri auditor declares victory after plaintiffs drop suit over cost of abortion petition

Feb 27, 2024 | 6:50 am ET
By Anna Spoerre
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Missouri auditor declares victory after plaintiffs drop suit over cost of abortion petition
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Missouri Auditor Scott Fitzpatrick (photo by Tim Bommel/Missouri House Communications).

A lawsuit challenging the estimated cost of an initiative petition that sought to add rape and incest exceptions to Missouri’s abortion ban has been dismissed, with plaintiffs saying there was no reason to continue the fight now that the campaign behind the proposal is no longer active.

The lawsuit was filed late last year by state Sen. Mary Elizabeth Coleman, state Rep. Hannah Kelly and Kathy Forck, a local anti-abortion activist. The trio argued that Missouri Auditor Scott Fitzpatrick’s fiscal note was “insufficient” and “unfair.”  

They believe it should have stated that Missouri would lose billions of dollars in federal Medicaid funding because fewer people would be born in Missouri. 

But the campaign in support of the initiative petition threw in the towel earlier this month to make way for a more expansive abortion proposal seeking to legalize abortion up until fetal viability that’s currently gathering signatures to get on the statewide ballot. 

Coleman, Kelly and Forck dropped their lawsuit on Friday, according to Cole County Court records. 

Fitzpatrick, a Republican who opposes abortion rights, was responsible for writing a summary of the financial impact of ballot initiatives on state and local government. 

Fitzpatrick determined that the proposed amendment could cost the state up to $21 million in litigation costs because Attorney General Andrew Bailey said he would refuse to defend them in court if approved by voters. For local governments, he estimated a loss of at least $51,000 in annual tax revenues. 

Coleman, Kelly and Forck had already lost a legal challenge to a Fitzpatrick fiscal note for a separate set of initiative petitions seeking to more broadly legalize abortion. They appealed after a Missouri judge sided with Fitzpatrick, saying the plaintiffs’ briefs cited no authority that showed Medicaid funding was in danger.

Late last year, the Missouri Supreme Court denied their appeal.

Fitzpatrick pointed to that ruling in response to the latest dismissal. 

“This is an issue that was previously adjudicated with the court affirming the validity of the process our office has used for decades to create fair and accurate fiscal notes,” Fitzpatrick said in a statement after the plaintiffs withdrew their lawsuit Friday.

A bench trial had been scheduled for March 5 in the courtroom of Judge Christopher Limbaugh. 

“The fact the plaintiffs dismissed their lawsuit the day they were required to answer our discovery request makes it clear they knew a similar outcome was inevitable with this case,” Fitzpatrick said.

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Coleman, Kelly and Forck, in a statement Monday, said it was “outrageous that pro-abortion liberals are wasting Missouri taxpayer money on their publicly abandoned pro-abortion petitions.”

Jamie Corley, a Republican who led the now-abandoned abortion amendment campaign, said on Monday that because her team was neither the plaintiff nor the defendant in the latest litigation, they did not have the ability to dismiss the lawsuit or end the litigation after they ended their campaign in early February.

The other ballot initiative campaign seeking to legalize abortion up to the point of fetal viability has raised more than $4 million in their effort to garner the more than 170,000 valid signatures needed from six of Missouri’s eight congressional districts to make it to the ballot. 

That coalition is supported by Abortion Action Missouri, Planned Parenthood and the ACLU of Missouri.

“We are focusing all of our efforts on communicating with Missouri voters that they should decline to sign that extreme pro-abortion petition,” Coleman, Kelly and Forck said in a statement.  “And not petitions that were abandoned due to dissent in the Democrat Party over viability.”

This story was updated at 10:42 a.m. to accurately reflect Kathy Forck’s role in the lawsuit.