Missouri AG Claims Legalizing Abortion Could Cost the State … $51 Billion
Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey is obstructing an effort to enshrine reproductive rights in the state’s constitution, claiming legalizing abortion could cost the state “as much as $51 billion dollars” — a figure that is roughly equivalent to the state’s entire budget this year. The Republican made the outrageous claim in a letter to Missouri State Auditor Scott Fitzpatrick, the man responsible for estimating the fiscal impact of ballot initiatives.
In Missouri, any citizen can submit a ballot proposal to the secretary of state’s office. The office is tasked with creating a short summary that will appear on the ballot itself, alongside an estimate of the proposal’s cost, prepared by the auditor. Once organizers receive that language, they can embark on the process of collecting signatures, more than 171,592 of which are now required in Missouri before a constitutional amendment can be put in front of voters.
Abortion advocates in Missouri began an effort to amend the state’s constitution last year, after the Supreme Court ended federal protections for the procedure. But their efforts are now being stalled by Bailey, whose dispute with Fitzpatrick, the state’s Republican auditor, is preventing them from beginning signature collection.
In late March, Fitzpatrick’s office submitted its “fiscal note,” the cost estimate that will appear on the ballot alongside the proposal. “State governmental entities estimate no costs or savings, but unknown impact,” the auditor’s office wrote. “Local governmental entities estimate costs of at least $51,000 annually in reduced tax revenues.”
The local government entity in question is Greene County, in southwest Missouri, whose officials told the auditor’s office that legalized abortion would cost the county $51,000 annually. The logic is tortured: they estimate that 135 of Greene County’s “future citizens would be lost” every year if abortion were legalized in Missouri, costing the county future tax revenue. (Put another way: officials believe roughly 135 women will be forced to give birth against their will every year, in their county alone, if Missouri’s current law remains in place.)
But the attorney general took issue with both Greene County’s estimate and the auditor’s assessment more broadly, arguing that both should be much, much higher. “As Greene County recognized, aborting unborn Missourians will have a deleterious impact on the future tax base,” Bailey wrote approvingly. He thought the country could take its thought experiment a step further. The $51,000 figure “will necessarily increase cumulatively in successive years,” he wrote. Moreover, he wanted to know why the auditor’s office didn’t extrapolate the same logic across Missouri’s 114 counties.
Bailey went on to cite a 2021 report produced by Senate Republicans, which estimated the economic cost of abortion in 2019 alone was equivalent to one third of the U.S. GDP. “Based on this study and 4,660 abortion in Missouri in 2019, the total economic loss to Missouri from these measures could be as high as $51 billion,” Bailey concluded. (The same Republican report suggests young women should be forced to breed in order to subsidize Boomers’ retirement. Abortion, Republicans wrote, “weakens the solvency of social insurance programs like Social Security and Medicare that rely on workers to support a growing elderly population.”)
Actual economists, unsurprisingly, have offered a much different view of the economic impact of abortion. More than 150 of the country’s most prominent economists joined together to describe the devastating economic effects of denying women access to abortion, actions that “increased their odds of living in poverty or need for public assistance.” Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen made a similar argument last year, testifying that “eliminating the right of women to make decisions about when and whether to have children would have very damaging effects on the economy and would set women back decades.”
As a result of the back and forth between Bailey and Fitzpatrick, state officials missed a May 1 deadline to finalize the ballot language. On Thursday, the ACLU of Missouri filed a petition asking a court to compel the officials to fulfill their duties so organizers on the ground can begin their work. (Correspondence between the two officials was included with the petition.)
Anthony Rothert, Director of Integrated Advocacy at the ACLU of Missouri, says Missouri officials have never missed the deadline before. “It’s probably not a coincidence that this is the first time it’s happened,” Rothert tells Rolling Stone. “It’s on a measure that they elected officials don’t want to share a ballot with — the Attorney General and the Secretary of State, especially.”
At the same time Bailey is delaying the ballot process, Missouri’s state legislature is contemplating a change to increase the threshold for a proposed constitutional amendment from a simple majority to 60 percent.
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Kelly Hall, executive director of the Fairness Project, a group working on ballot measures around the country sees Missouri as a microcosm of a larger anti-democratic dynamic manifesting across the country. “Politicians are going well beyond their legal obligations in their roles, their legal responsibilities to faithfully execute their offices, and doing everything they can to throw their bodies in front of voters exercising their own free will on the issues that matter to them most,” she says. “People’s ideological views are trumping their official responsibility to be stewards of our democracy and our fundamental democratic institutions.”
This fight, she expects, is just the first of more to come, in Missouri and around the country. “I don’t think that this is the end of the challenges and roadblocks we will see thrown up in front of any Missouri reproductive rights ballot measure,” she adds. “And we should expect to see this in other states as politicians have these last-gasp moments of trying to prevent voters from doing what they actually think is right.”