The U.S. Supreme Court may vote to weaken the right to abortion this summer or overturn Roe v. Wade outright. If that happens, most legal observers agree that the issue will end up in state legislatures. Abortion will be legal in some states and illegal in others.
But no one should expect that religious extremists who are determined to control Americans’ reproductive lives will simply accept abortion being legal anywhere. Indeed, we’re already seeing a taste of things to come in Missouri, where a state legislator has put forth a measure designed to end the ability of residents to leave the state to obtain abortions elsewhere.
Under a bill sponsored by Rep. Mary Elizabeth Coleman (R-Arnold), private citizens could file lawsuits against anyone who helps a Missouri resident obtain an abortion in another state. Enforcement of the law would be left up to state residents, not the government. (If this scheme sounds familiar, there’s a good reason. It’s based on a Texas provision that remains in force while legal challenges against it proceed.)
Missouri already has some of the most restrictive abortion laws in the country, and there’s only one abortion clinic in the state. As a result, many people seeking abortions travel to neighboring Illinois, where the laws are more respectful of reproductive freedom.
This clearly bothers Coleman. She told The Washington Post, “If your neighboring state doesn’t have pro-life protections, it minimizes the ability to protect the unborn in your state.”
Her answer is to deputize a squad of Christian nationalist vigilantes to run amok in the state, squealing on anyone who helps procure an abortion. If you lend money to pay for the procedure, drive someone across the state line, counsel them to travel for it or even answer the phone in Illinois and schedule an abortion for a Missourian, you could be dragged into court and forced to defend your actions – at considerable cost to you. Coleman wants to scare people so much that they won’t take the risk.
There was a time, and it wasn’t so long ago, when provisions like this that sound like they came out of a dystopian novel would have been quickly squelched in court. We are facing a much different reality now.
Thanks to the Supreme Court’s willingness to erode the church-state wall, we’re all facing a future where religious extremists feel empowered to meddle in our most private affairs. Unfortunately, Coleman’s Orwellian bill is likely to be the first, not the last, of these freedom-sapping proposals.