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Missouri lawmaker wants to make it a crime to help people get abortions out of state

Tim Bommel
Missouri House Communications
Rep. Mary Elizabeth Coleman had tried gathering legislative support for a broad anti-abortion bill this session, but it failed to make it out of committee. She also proposed amendments to three health-related bills now being considered by the House.

State Rep. Mary Elizabeth Coleman is continuing her crusade to make it illegal to help a person in Missouri get an abortion, even if it’s in a different state.

Coleman, R-Arnold, has proposed amendments tothreehealth-related House bills being considered in Jefferson City that would allow Missouri residents to sue those who help people seek abortions.

The measures are similar to abroad anti-abortion bill Coleman introduced at the beginning of the legislative session that didn’t make it out of committee.

The provisions in the amendments don’t directly punish the person who is having the abortion. Coleman’s proposed amendments would criminalize facilitating the procedure: transporting someone to have an abortion, helping pay for the procedure or instructing them on ways to end a pregnancy. Abortion rights advocates say the measures are part of a larger trend of lawmakers in conservative states using unconventional legal methods to outlaw the procedure.

“What the provisions are doing is creating a civil cause of action that is empowering citizens to sue when the law is broken. That’s what we do in many numbers of different ways in the state,” Coleman said.

The amendments also would make it unlawful to mail, possess or deliver abortion-inducing drugs in Missouri.

The provisions wouldn’t apply to ride shares and transportation companies, or to speech protected by the First Amendment, Coleman said.

The amendments are aimed at abortion providers who help Missouri residents obtain abortions in Illinois, where there are fewer restrictions. Many providers, including Planned Parenthood, refer patients across the river so they don’t need to undergo an ultrasound or other procedures before having an abortion.

The Planned Parenthood center in St. Louis remains open as shown on Wednesday, July 1, 2020.
Bill Greenblatt
Planned Parenthood Reproductive Health Services in St. Louis is the only remaining abortion provider in Missouri. Proposed laws in the Missouri House would make it unlawful for the organization to coordinate abortions for Missourians, including those across the river in Illinois.

Abortion access has dwindled in Missouri as more restrictive laws have been introduced. Planned Parenthood Reproductive Health Services, in the Central West End, is the only clinic in the state that still provides the procedure.

“The Planned Parenthood clinic in the Central West End and private abortion providers across the river who are advertising in the state of Missouri are conducting businesses in the state of Missouri really to avoid those pro-life protections that are here in the state,” Coleman said.

Planned Parenthood will continue to help patients in Missouri obtain legal abortions, said Bonyen Lee-Gilmore, the organization’s vice president of communications and strategy.

“We have never backed down from intimidation tactics, and we’re not going to do it now,” she said. “Reproductive health services will always help patients access abortion no matter who they are or where they live."

Lee-Gilmore says it’s against the U.S. Constitution for the legislature to police what happens in another state.

“It is a matter of legal, constitutional rights 101 that no legislature can govern outside its state lines,” she said. “But we know anti-abortion politicians blatantly disregard laws all the time in an effort to push their agenda, so it’s not surprising.”

The legislation being proposed in Missouri is part of a nationwide campaign by anti-abortion legislators. Texas last year introduced a law that allowed residents to sue those who helped someone obtain an abortion. As a result, Illinois is becoming a destination for people in states increasing abortion restrictions.

“This will not just happen in Missouri – this will happen in many states that also surround Illinois on other borders,” said Dr. Erin King, executive director of Hope Clinic, a Granite City clinic that provides abortions.

“These laws being discussed in Missouri are just one more way to stigmatize abortions and confuse patients,” she said. “Whether or not this or similar legislation could legally be enforced, the discussions decrease access to abortion immediately with the uncertainty and confusion that arises.”

Follow Sarah on Twitter: @petit_smudge

Sarah Fentem is the health reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.