Missouri appeals court rules against ballot summary language that described 'dangerous' abortions

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — A Missouri appeals court ruled Tuesday against Republican-written summaries of abortion-rights ballot measures that described several proposed amendments as allowing “dangerous and unregulated abortions until live birth.”

A three-judge panel of the Western District Court of Appeals found the summaries written by Republican Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft, who is running for governor in 2024, are politically partisan.

Ballot summaries are used on Missouri ballots to help voters understand sometimes lengthy and complex constitutional amendments and policy changes.

Ashcroft’s original description of the amendments, which could go on the ballot in 2024 if supporters gather enough voter signatures, 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.”

But the appeals-court panel wrote that allowing unrestricted abortion "during all nine months of pregnancy is not a probable effect of initiatives.”

The judges largely upheld summaries that were rewritten by a lower court judge to be more impartial.

The summaries approved by the appeals court would tell voters the amendments would “establish a right to make decisions about reproductive health care, including abortion and contraceptives” and “remove Missouri’s ban on abortion.”

Ashcroft said he plans to appeal the ruling.

“We stand by our language and believe it fairly and accurately reflects the scope and magnitude of each petition,” Ashcroft said in a statement.

Abortion-rights proponents lauded the Tuesday ruling.

“Today, the courts upheld Missourians’ constitutional right to direct democracy over the self-serving attacks of politicians desperately seeking to climb the political ladder," the ACLU of Missouri said in a statement. It called the decision "a complete rebuke of the combined efforts from the Attorney General and Secretary of State to interfere and deny Missourian’s their right to initiative process.”

Republican Attorney General Andrew Bailey’s office is defending Ashcroft’s summary language in court.

“Missourians deserve meaningful access to abortion and the ability to fully participate in the democratic process,” Emily Wales, the president and CEO of the Planned Parenthood’s Great Plains affiliate, said in a statement. “The court rightfully struck down language that is misleading and stigmatizing.”

Missouri is among several states, including Ohio, where abortion opponents are fighting efforts to ensure or restore access to the procedure following the fall of Roe v. Wade last year.

A measure to ensure abortion access is on the November ballot in Ohio after withstanding legal challenges from opponents. That state’s voters in August rejected a measure that would have required at least 60% of the vote to amend the state constitution, an approach supported by abortion opponents that would have made it harder to adopt the November ballot question.

Measures to protect access already have spots in the 2024 votes in Maryland and New York. Legislative efforts or petition drives are underway in a variety of states. There are efforts to protect or expand access in Arizona, Florida, Nevada and South Dakota; and to restrict it in Iowa, Nebraska and Pennsylvania. Drives are on for both kinds of measures in Colorado.

Voters in every state with an abortion-related ballot measure since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in 2022, effectively making abortion access a state-by-state question, have favored the side supported by abortion rights supporters.

An Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll earlier this year found that most voters -- including those in states with bans on access at all stages of pregnancy -- want abortion to be legal early in pregnancy. Most voters also favored some limits.


Associated Press writer Heather Hollingsworth in Mission, Kansas and Geoff Mulvihill in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, contributed to this report.