The Texas law banning abortion after six weeks has forced a lot of women to leave the state to obtain medical care. Missouri Republicans have a plan to stop that—not by removing the need to leave the state, but by preventing them from doing so.
Missouri passed a set of harsh restrictions in 2019. More than 10,000 Missourians have been helped at a single Planned Parenthood clinic located on the Illinois side of the state border since the clinic opened in October of that year. The single remaining clinic providing abortions in Missouri, by contrast, was doing just 10 to 20 each month. But some Republicans in the state don’t think that’s enough and have been looking for ways to crack down still further. Texas and the Supreme Court have given them an idea.
A provision being attached as an amendment to several other anti-abortion bills would make it illegal to leave the state for a legal abortion in another state, usually neighboring Illinois. How is it possible to make it illegal to leave the state for medical care? Republican state Rep. Mary Elizabeth Coleman has structured her amendment as a copycat of the Texas law.
Where SB 8 in Texas allows any would-be vigilante to sue anyone who “aids or abets” an abortion after six weeks, Coleman’s plan is to allow would-be vigilantes to sue those who help a Missouri resident obtain an abortion in another state. That could include doctors in other states, staff responsible for setting up appointments, and people involved in advertising that care is available in other states, like the billboard saying, “Illinois, where you can get a safe, legal abortion.”
Yes, it’s outrageous to try to pass a law penalizing people for doing something entirely legal in the jurisdiction in which they’re doing it. But does that mean Missouri Republicans won’t do it? I wouldn’t be so sure. And while the measure would face immediate legal challenges, the Supreme Court’s hands-off approach to the Texas law gives reason to worry that Missouri could be allowed to trample on the rights of people in Illinois and any other state. Texas residents have sought abortions in at least 12 states that don't border Texas, so a Missouri law could reach almost anywhere, given a motivated enough vigilante.
Coleman’s measure would also ban the manufacture, transport, possession, and distribution of abortion pills.