First-of-its-kind legislation in Missouri seeks to deliver a counterpunch to abortion advocates' efforts to circumvent state laws aimed at protecting the lives of unborn babies.
As an increasing number of Republican-controlled states pass legal limits on abortion procedures modeled after Texas' "Heartbeat Law," abortion-seeking women are bypassing the restrictions by traveling out-of-state to terminate pregnancies, in many cases with support from employers and countless other third-party groups.
But the new Missouri proposal — which was introduced as an amendment to several abortion-related bills in the state legislature this week — aims to combat the practice by allowing private citizens to sue anyone who helps a Missouri resident obtain an abortion out-of-state, the Washington Post reported.
The proposal essentially extends the novel legal strategy underpinning the Texas law to include out-of-state abortion procedures. In Missouri, where lawmakers passed a trigger law in 2019 that would effectively ban abortions in the state if Roe v. Wade is overturned, abortion-seekers often drive to neighboring Illinois to end their pregnancies.
Pro-life lawmakers, including the amendment's author, St. Louis-area Republican Mary Elizabeth Coleman, see the practice as an intentional evasion of state law.
"It’s trying to evade the laws of the state of Missouri," Coleman charged, according to the Associated Press. "Abortion is a really brutal practice and Illinois has chosen not to, in any way, provide protections for the unborn and women, and so we’re trying to do everything we can to make sure Missourians are protected."
Abortion advocates, on the other hand, have slammed the provision as an unconstitutional overreach, especially as they prepare for the Supreme Court's potential overturning of its landmark ruling in Roe.
"If the court does that, the ability to get an abortion will be on the line for everyone in America, and so we’re at a crisis point," Andrew Beck, senior staff attorney with the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, said, adding, "The Missouri bill crystallizes that as extreme and dangerous as that crisis is, it’s just the first step in politicians’ effort to outlaw abortions for everyone."
Under Coleman's proposal, anyone who drives a woman across state lines to an abortion clinic, pays for their procedure or travel costs, helps a woman secure insurance coverage for the operation, promotes out-of-state abortions on a billboard, or otherwise "aids or abets" the action is liable to be sued.
Abortion advocates have been working hard to bypass the state laws in recent months. The AP reported that a network of 90-plus groups has sprung up across the U.S. recently for the specific purpose of preserving access to abortion. Several U.S. businesses have also vowed to pay the travel costs for employees seeking abortions in other states or cover the legal fees of employees caught up in lawsuits.
The fate of Coleman's proposal remains to be seen. But either way, pro-life lawmakers will certainly continue to advance similar legislation in anticipation of the Supreme Court sending abortion back to the states later this year.