As Attorney General, Ashcroft played a particularly active role in defending efforts by the state to restrict women’s reproductive rights. In Planned Parenthood v. Ashcroft, 462 U.S. 476 (1983), Ashcroft personally argued the case before the Supreme Court in defense of a Missouri law requiring, among other abortion restrictions, all second-trimester abortions to be performed in hospitals, not outpatient clinics. The hospital requirement would have made it very difficult for many women, particularly poor women, to obtain an abortion because of the cost, inaccessibility and, in some cases, unavailability of abortions at hospitals.
In Sermchief v. Gonzales and State of Missouri, 660 S.W.2d 683 (Mo. 1983), Ashcroft both intervened and submitted an amicus brief in a case in which a state agency was attempting to block professional nurses from being able to provide routine gynecological services such as conducting breast and pelvic examinations, performing PAP smears and other lab tests, and providing and giving out information about contraceptives. The entire Missouri Supreme Court rejected Ashcroft’s position and ruled unanimously that professional nurses could perform these services under Missouri statutes. Ashcroft’s position would have held that nurses could not perform these critical reproductive health services, thus reducing and burdening women’s access to these services. The exceptional nature of the case at that time was noted by the Missouri Supreme Court, which stated that despite at least forty states having modernized or expanded their nursing laws in the prior fifteen years, the Attorney General’s office and other state counsel could not cite a single case anywhere challenging the authority of nurses to perform similar services.
In 1993, as his term as Governor was ending, Ashcroft decided to run for the position of Chairman of the Republican National Committee. Notably, Republican legislators and local leaders from Missouri who knew the most about him said that he was too extreme for the job and that he was not receptive to people with different views. An important component of these statements was the concern about Ashcroft’s extreme views on abortion.