Lawmakers in multiple states have introduced extreme anti-abortion measures since Texas enacted a law in September that deputizes private citizens to enforce its six-week abortion ban. The latest is a Missouri legislator who wants to prevent Missouri residents from getting abortions in other states.
State Rep. Mary Elizabeth Coleman introduced an amendment to several bills this week that would allow private citizens to sue anyone who “aids or abets” a resident traveling to get an abortion outside of Missouri, where getting an abortion is so difficult that many people leave the state for the procedure.
The provision uses the same enforcement mechanism that Texas’ abortion ban does. That’s why the law is so hard to challenge in court: by delegating enforcement to private citizens instead of the state government, it makes it very hard to build a case before someone has actually been sued under the law. The Supreme Court allowed Texas’ enforcement mechanism and six-week abortion ban to stand as the lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the ban proceeds in lower courts. The Missouri provision will likely be able to skirt any major legal challenges in the same way Texas’ law has.
Coleman added her amendment to several bills that recently made it through a committee and are awaiting a state House floor vote.
This is “an attempt to ensure that the pro-life protections that are in place in Missouri are provided to all Missouri residents and we’re able to save lives,” Coleman told HuffPost in a Wednesday morning call.
She said that the provision is meant to ensure that states with more-expansive abortion rights can no longer undermine the laws in place in states that oppose abortion rights. She brought up the fact that, after Missouri passed several anti-abortion measures in 2019, Planned Parenthood opened a clinic in Illinois right along the Mississippi River — aka the state border.
“In some ways, I think that what we’re seeing happening in Missouri is what we’ll see across the country in a post-Roe world, where you will have abortion clinics right on the borders and really subverting the laws of the pro-life states,” Coleman said, referring to an upcoming ruling from the Supreme Court that could upend abortion protections established nearly 50 years ago in Roe v. Wade. If that happens, nearly half of U.S. states are expected to outlaw the procedure.
Bonyen Lee-Gilmore, of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region & Southwest Missouri, told HuffPost that the organization anticipated an effort like this after opening the clinic on the Missouri-Illinois border.
“Anti-abortion opposition groups have always said that they were going to try and figure out a way to punish people for crossing state lines, and so it’s not a surprise,” she said.
“We should all be shocked by the hypocrisy of politicians who claim to support personal liberties while offering bills that are straight out of a totalitarian playbook.”
Abortion policies in Missouri are so restrictive, Lee-Gillmore said, that “about 90% of Missourians who call us to make an abortion appointment end up choosing to flee the state because because of the restrictions,” which include mandatory counseling, a 72-hour waiting period, medically unnecessary pelvic exams and extremely limited access to medication abortion.
It’s unclear whether Coleman’s amendment will be successful, Lee-Gillmore added, saying that the legislator decided to introduce the amendments after failing to get committee hearings for the anti-abortion bills she sponsored.
“She is resorting to a little bit of abortion theater and politics to get some attention,” she said of Coleman, who just announced her campaign for the Missouri state Senate.
If the amendment succeeds, Missouri will have to defend it in court. Abortion rights advocates argue that the amendment is unconstitutional because it attempts to enforce laws beyond Missouri state jurisdiction.
“The proposed amendment is blatantly unconstitutional,” Emily Wales, the interim president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Great Plains, told HuffPost. “Not only does it ban abortion in Missouri, but it also makes it illegal for Missourians to travel across state lines to get care. Websites hosted and maintained by physicians and advocates in other states that provide information about abortions would be illegal. People who offer support to patients seeking abortion care ― suggesting a phone number or offering a ride ― could be sued for their actions.”
“We should all be shocked by the hypocrisy of politicians who claim to support personal liberties while offering bills that are straight out of a totalitarian playbook,” added Wales. “It’s a warning about how the future for Missourians will look if we don’t take action now to protect patients’ rights.”
Coleman’s efforts can also be an effective scare tactic during such an uncertain time for abortion rights nationwide, Lee-Gilmore cautioned.
“An amendment like this is really meant to intimidate people from seeking the care that they need,” she said.
The Missouri provision not only mirrors parts of the Texas abortion ban enforcement mechanism, it’s also a response to what’s happened since the law took effect. Since September, many Texans have traveled to neighboring states to get abortions. Planned Parenthood clinics that border Texas reported a nearly 800% increase in patients from the Lone Star State.
There has also been an increase in Texans taking medication abortion or abortion pills from home. Coleman’s provision would also criminalize “any person who manufactures, distributes, transports, provides, or aids or abets the manufacture, distribution, transportation, or provision of abortion-inducing drugs” in Missouri, according to the amendment.