ST. LOUIS (CN) - The Jackson County prosecuting attorney does not have standing to file a cross-claim in a lawsuit challenging Missouri's law prohibiting abortion, a St. Louis city judge ruled Friday.
Circuit Judge Jason Sengheiser threw out Jean Peters Baker's motion in a nine-page ruling. The Democrat prosecutor, whose jurisdiction includes most of Kansas City, filed the cross-claim in an underlying lawsuit challenging the abortion ban, claiming the criminal penalties in the law violate the equal protection clause in the Missouri Constitution.
"While Peters Baker has expansive prosecutorial discretion and a concomitant duty to ponder the delivery of criminal justice on a systemic level, the court has no discretion to issue an advisory opinion or to depart from controlling precedent," Sengheiser wrote. "The cross-claim petition is based on hypothetical facts of the type that would result in an impermissible advisory opinion."
Peters Baker's communications director declined to comment on the ruling.
Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey, a Republican, lauded the decision.
"Today is a major win for women and their unborn children as a Missouri court sided with our office yet again in our efforts to defend the sanctity of life," Bailey said in a statement. "The court recognized that Jean Peters Baker cannot challenge our pro-life laws. My office will continue to use every tool at its disposal to protect the unborn. Our children are worth the fight."
General Solicitor Joshua Divine, who represented Bailey's office, argued during a 50-minute hearing on Sept. 6 that Peters Baker's motion should be dismissed because the court has no authority to grant her request.
Divine also argued the motion should be tossed because it was filed two months late, and even the challenge came in a timely manner, the claims are no longer a part of the underlying lawsuit, parts of which Sengheiser dismissed following a June hearing.
The state attorney concluded his argument by saying Missouri has an interest in moving forward with the case and the cross-claim presented an unnecessary distraction.
Sengheiser agreed with the state's argument that the cross-claim lacked ripeness.
"The cross-claim petition does not allege a presently existing conflict with sufficient immediacy," Sengheiser wrote. "As previously stated, the cross-claim petition does not allege that any individuals in Jackson County have violated the Missouri statutes criminalizing abortion or that such a violation is imminent."
Attorney Amanda R. Langenheim from the Jackson County Counselor's Office said during the hearing that the state missed the mark by asserting that Peters Baker's cross-claim would unnecessarily complicate the issue.
Langenheim argued there is ambiguity in whether a woman seeking an abortion could face criminal charges.
A group of clergy leaders filed the lawsuit in January challenging the state of Missouri's abortion ban on religious grounds.
Former Attorney General Eric Schmitt, who was elected to the U.S. Senate in November, made Missouri the first state to ban the medical procedure minutes after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June 2022. Bailey, who succeeded Schmitt, along with Governor Michael Parson and several county prosecuting attorneys, are named as defendants in the lawsuit filed in St. Louis City Circuit Court.
The plaintiffs, 13 clergy members of multiple faiths and affiliations, claim the ban violates religious freedom and the state constitution's promise of separation of church and state.
Schmitt based his legal opinion activating the abortion ban on a trigger provision contained in Section B of House Bill 126, which was passed in 2019 by the Republican-dominated Legislature. It allowed Missouri to outlaw abortion in the event of a Roe v. Wade overturn by the Supreme Court's conservative supermajority.
The ban makes performing an abortion a Class B felony. Medical providers who do so could lose their license.
The religious leaders claim the ban is causing a public health crisis, and especially hurts the most economically vulnerable, who cannot afford to take time off work or get child care to cross state lines for an abortion.
Additionally, they say the law was passed on theological grounds, and in their complaint quote conservative lawmakers' statements regarding the passage of HB 126.
The plaintiffs seek a permanent injunction prohibiting the state from enforcing the abortion ban.
Source: Courthouse News Service