Missouri AG threatens to sue cities that help cover out-of-state abortion travel

Members of the Kansas City, Mo., city council approved an ordinance last week that may help city employees cover travel costs for out-of-state abortions, now that the procedure is largely illegal in Missouri.

But the state’s Republican attorney general soon made clear that it was unacceptable to him.

“Working families are struggling to pay for gas & food,” Attorney General Eric Schmitt, who is also currently running for a US Senate seat, said in a tweet July 1, a day after the Kansas City Council approved the legislation. “They fork over their hard earned money in taxes & now St Louis & KC ‘leaders’ want to spend those hard earned tax dollars on abortions. No way. Any attempt to do so by cities or counties in Missouri will be met with a lawsuit.”

In a tweet later that same day, Schmitt referenced Quinton Lucas, Kansas City’s 37-year-old major and a supporter of abortion rights. Schmitt wrote that in “his never ending and embarrassing quest to be a nationally relevant major and pad his progressive bona fides—Major Q™️ not only wants to take taxpayer money away from police and public safety he now wants taxpayers to fund abortions.”

The resolution, however, explicitly says that funds for out-of-state travel will not come from taxpayer dollars or the city’s general fund, according to KCUR, the local NPR affiliate. In fact, the resolution doesn’t even mention abortion, though it intends to reimburse city employees and dependents who need to leave Missouri for healthcare. Lucas said the resolution was written in a manner that doesn’t “welcome a legal challenge,” according to the Kansas City Stars.

Lucas’s office didn’t immediately return a MarketWatch request for comment on how out-of-state travel would be funded.

“Using hard-earned taxpayer dollars, whether it be ARPA funds or other forms of revenue, to fund nonsensical threats and meritless lawsuits violates the state attorney general’s ethical obligations as a Missouri attorney,” Lucas said in a statement responding to Schmitt’s threats, referencing the 2021 American Rescue Plan Act. He added that the city would continue “to stand up for the freedom of Missouri women and Missouri families.”

It’s worth noting that Kansas City residents would potentially not have to travel all that far for the procedure: There are two clinics performing abortions in nearby Overland Park, Kansas, and abortion access is still protected by Kansas’ constitution. However, those abortion protections could be undone if voters approve a constitutional amendment this August that would override a 2019 Kansas Supreme Court ruling guaranteeing Kansans’ right to abortion. If that ruling is overturned, the state’s Republican-controlled legislature could pass severe restrictions on abortion access.

St. Louis County, which also borders a state where abortion remains accessible — Illinois — is weighing a similar measure to allocate at least $1 million in federal American Rescue Plan money to cover abortion-related travel costs, according to St. Louis Public Radio. The procedure itself would not be funded, but, critically, the measure would apply beyond government workers, according to the Kansas City Star.

Schmitt also threatened the city of St. Louis and St. Louis County with litigation if they “attempt to authorize taxpayer-funded abortions.”

Missouri was among the 13 states with so-called trigger bans designed to quickly curtail abortion access once Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 Supreme Court decision, was overturned. Shortly after the Supreme Court’s ruling last month, Missouri — which had steadily chipped away at abortion rights for years — quickly blocked all abortions except in cases of a medical emergencywith no exceptions for incest or rape.

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