GOP candidate for Missouri governor implies he’d ‘have to quit’ if voters pass abortion rights

Comments made ahead of appeals court ruling on abortion rights ballot language
Court battle over abortion rights heads to Missouri Ballot
Published: Nov. 1, 2023 at 12:17 PM CDT|Updated: Nov. 1, 2023 at 6:03 PM CDT
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JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (KFVS) - Following a hearing in the Western District Court of Appeals Monday, Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft, who is running for governor, was asked by reporters whether he, as governor, would be able to defend reproductive rights if Missouri voters enshrine them in the state constitution next fall.

“Anytime a statewide official is sworn in, we swear an oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States and of the state of Missouri,” Ashcroft replied. “If I cannot do that, then I would have to leave my position. I cannot swear an oath and then refuse to do what I’d said I would do.”

Reporters followed up, asking whether Ashcroft meant that he would resign or decline to take the oath of office if the initiative on abortion rights is approved on the 2024 ballot.

“We’re getting into real hypotheticals,” Ashcroft said. “What I’ve told you is that I would do what I said I would do. When I take an oath, I will follow it, and if it is incompatible with my moral beliefs, then I would have to quit.”

The same question was asked of Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey, who has been an outspoken opponent of abortion rights.

“I’ve been committed to enforcing the law as written,” Bailey said. “I’m not a lawmaker. I’m in the executive branch. We’ve documented history of defending state statute and state constitutional provisions, and we’ll continue to do that.”

Bailey went on to say he believes the initiative represents, “bad policy for the state of Missouri.”

On Tuesday, the Appeals Court unanimously ruled against Ashcroft and Bailey, who said the decisions will be appealed to the Missouri Supreme Court.

The news bureau asked the other Republican candidates for governor whether they’d defend reproductive rights in their role, if elected.

Neither Lt. Governor Mike Kehoe’s nor state Sen. Bill Eigel’s campaigns immediately responded to the request.

Lt. Governor Mike Kehoe responded to the question saying, if elected, he’d maintain his opposition to abortion, but didn’t say whether or how he’d use his gubernatorial power to that end.

“Throughout my entire life and career, I have never been a quitter,” Kehoe said in a statement to the bureau. “I hope Missourians will choose to defend the sanctity of human life and reject changing our current law. I will continue to do my part in fighting for the pro-life community just as I have my entire career. If the initiative petition does pass, having a pro-life governor will be more important than ever. I will never quit on Missourians.”

A campaign spokesperson for the Lt. Governor recently told the Kansas City Star that Kehoe would be open to altering Missouri’s abortion ban to include exceptions for cases of rape and incest.

State Sen. Bill Eigel said, if elected, he’d maintain his strong opposition to abortion rights, and actively work through the state legislature to dismantle them.

“I would proactively use any legal means of the Office of the Governor to protect the lives of the unborn,” Eigel said. “Now, in the event where we saw the result that you’re that you’re pointing to in any given election cycle, the next logical step is to submit a constitutional amendment to the people through the legislature that isn’t manipulated to the degree that I think a lot of the initiative petitions are going through the system right now.”

Democratic candidate for governor and House Minority leader Crystal Quade has been a staunch supporter of abortion rights, and criticized her Republican opponents for positions she considers extreme.

“I hope everyone in Missouri hears Ashcroft’s comments about stepping down. I mean, that is ridiculous,” Quade said. “As governor, I will respect the freedom of every Missourian to make decisions about their healthcare without government intrusion. Jay Ashcroft wants to put himself in every Missouri doctor’s office. His big-government approach is wrong, and I will always support Missourians’ constitutional freedom to be heard at the ballot box.”

Polling conducted in August 2022, after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the Roe vs. Wade decision, found that 48% of likely Missouri voters said they would support a reversal of the abortion ban while 40% said they would vote to continue it.

The breakdown was clearly divided by party affiliation, with 69% of Republican voters opposing abortion rights, and 90% of Democrats supporting them.

The share of likely Missouri Republican voters who said they’d vote to overturn the ban on abortion was 17%.