MO judge says lawsuit against Ashcroft’s ‘misleading’ abortion petition was premature

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A Cole County judge on Wednesday said that a lawsuit accusing Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft of crafting a misleading ballot summary for a proposed initiative petition to restore abortion rights in the state was not ready to be argued in court.

The order from Judge Jon Beetem was largely procedural, stating that the ACLU of Missouri had filed the suit before Ashcroft, a Republican who is running for governor in 2024, had officially certified the measure. Beetem will allow the ACLU to file a new lawsuit and has scheduled another hearing for next week.

Ashcroft, in a statement provided by his office, touted the ruling.

“We applaud the court for dismissing these frivolous lawsuits that were filed prior to the initiative petition language being certified by my office,” he said.

Tom Bastian, a spokesperson for the ACLU of Missouri, said the group would file an amended complaint on Thursday.

“Despite the Secretary of State’s request to toss our challenges to his deceptive ballot summary statement, the court kept our case on track,” he said. “We will amend our filings tomorrow and see the Secretary in court next week.”

The lawsuit accused the Republican of crafting a misleading and unfair summary that would encourage Missourians to vote against the ballot measure. Ashcroft’s language, in part, would ask voters to “allow for dangerous, unregulated, and unrestricted abortions.”

The civil liberties group proposed its own ballot summary for the petition. It, in part, would ask voters to “establish the right to reproductive freedom that includes the right to make decisions about reproductive health care, including prenatal care, childbirth, postpartum care, birth control, abortion care, miscarriage care, and respectful birthing conditions.”

The ruling illustrates another roadblock erected by Republicans to fight against the proposed ballot measure, which seeks to ask voters in 2024 to repeal the state’s near-total ban on abortion.

It comes less than a week after the Missouri Supreme Court ruled that Republican Attorney General Andrew Bailey overstepped his authority when he refused to accept the ballot measure unless it included a projected loss of billions of dollars to the state.

The ruling forced Bailey to approve a set of fiscal notes for the ballot measure and send them to fellow Republican Auditor Scott Fitzpatrick. Fitzpatrick’s office sent the estimates to Ashcroft’s office on Friday.