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Rep. Mary Elizabeth Coleman sees Texas as a model in her quest to end abortion in Missouri

Missouri state representative Mary Elizabeth Coleman speaks into a microphone in the Missouri Capitol.
Tim Bommel
Arnold resident Mary Elizabeth Coleman represents Missouri’s 97th House District.

Mary Elizabeth Coleman is a St. Louisan, a mother of six, and a member of the Missouri House. She’s made it her mission to end abortion in the state — and wants to eventually end it on the national level, too.

Coleman introduced a bill last year modeled on the new Texas law that's now working its way through the court system. Coleman’s version also would allow citizens to sue anyone who seeks out, provides, or helps someone get an abortion, essentially banning abortion as soon as cardiac activity is detected (generally around six weeks).

Coleman recognizes the vast disagreement on an issue where she feels moral certainty.

“The premise of Roe v. Wade was that it would settle this issue once and for all, and 49 years later, we had more than 100 pro-life bills that were passed across this country,” Coleman told St. Louis on the Air. “So clearly, the issue is as unsettled — if not more unsettled — than ever.”

Coleman believes abortion can be ended. She says that women deserve better, and that women no longer have to choose pregnancy or motherhood over a different life path.

“We hear abortion talked about as, you know, ‘It saved my career,’ or ‘I had an opportunity to keep my education,’” Coleman said. “And what I would say to that is that no one would say to a man that in order to be successful, they had to end their child's life.”

Abortion-rights advocates say it’s not just parenthood people are avoiding when they seek out abortions, but pregnancy itself. Coleman believes that with the right support, women wouldn’t need to turn to abortion.

Rep. Mary Elizabeth Coleman discusses Missouri's new abortion bill

“What we hear and what we see is that people are getting abortions largely because of crises that are happening in their lives,” she said. “And so, my fundamental belief is that women deserve support, and they deserve equality and not having to deny what is fundamental about being a woman in order to be successful economically.”

Missouri has the seventh-highest maternal mortality rate in the country. Those rates disproportionately affect women of color.

Critics of Coleman have pointed out that she has immense privileges that have afforded her to feel empowered by pregnancy and motherhood (the attorney and part-time legislator has acknowledged having not just one nanny, but two), and that many people don’t have access to those resources. Coleman says that she’s aware of the privilege she has, and that there should be policies in place that allow other women to enjoy similar privileges.

“Rather than saying to every woman, ‘You should have a community that is able to support you, we should have policies that allow your economic success, we should make sure that you have success,’ we're asking you to trade what is most precious and most vital, which is the life of your child,” she said.

Coleman supports women receiving full medical coverage for the first year after they give birth. While she doesn’t support the idea that they should be given resources for the rest of their lives, she says the government should be able to help at the beginning, including postpartum Medicaid coverage.

“My point is not ever to say that we don't need to provide support for women. I think that's vital,” she said. “I hope the Biden administration will grant that waiver and allow us to cover pregnant women for an extended period of time. We've been asking for years for that.”

Coleman responded to criticism of her bill from callers, as well as prerecorded comments from Dr. Colleen McNicholas, medical director of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southeastern Missouri.

Ultimately, she said she hopes to continue having conversations about an issue she knows to be extremely divisive.

“A lot of times people get so emotional around abortion that they're not able to have a real discussion about where people's views are, and what their beliefs are and where they think the line should be and what should and shouldn't be allowed,” she said. “And we only move forward as a country when we have these discussions and we have them civilly and we don't assume ill will of the other.”

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill, Lara Hamdan and Kayla Drake. Jane Mather-Glass is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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