Anna Lee ‘24
Chief Opinions Editor
When Texan lawmakers enacted a controversial anti-abortion law last year, other Republican-led states sourced inspiration and followed suit. Most recently, Missouri Representative Mary Elizabeth Coleman (R-Arnold) introduced a new provision that would allow state citizens to sue anyone seeking abortions “regardless of where the abortion is or will be performed” (HB 1667 188.805 Section 2). Coleman’s provision shares many similarities with the Texas abortion law, using the same novel strategy of citizen surveillance to ensure anti-abortion tactics. If the provision passes, citizens would be encouraged to inform on one another, jeopardizing respect for state boundaries and the relationship between individuals and the government.
Up until recently, I could understand the anti-abortion opinion. While I disagree with the premise and its main arguments, I can accept other perspectives grounded in devout or secular reason. But Missouri’s dangerous provision crosses the line on multiple fronts: accessible healthcare, citizens’ privacy, and using monetary incentives to encourage policing or false reporting. Though Coleman asserts that her provision “[empowers] citizens to sue when the law is broken,” her plan gives free reign to the average citizen, who would have the power to settle personal disputes with real or fake reports. As Dr. Solomon D. Stevens writes, “Regardless of one’s view of abortion, one should recoil . . . it is a law that would further polarize us, make us suspicious of one another, and encourage us to strike out at one another” (Stevens).
Missouri, where abortion is outlawed after eight weeks gestation, is one of the strictest U.S. states when it comes to women’s reproductive rights. While Missouri laws—no matter how good or bad—should be contained within state lines, the provision threatens to impose Missouri policies on other states. Because abortion clinics in other states source a large percentage of patients from Missouri—in a clinic across the state border, 75 percent of patients were from Missouri, and in a Kansas clinic, 42 percent were—Missouri’s provision would rope in other states without mutual input (NBC, The Associated Press). This provision would allow Missouri lawmakers to reach their tentacles across state borders to punish women and facilitators whether they get an abortion in Illinois, Massachusetts, or perhaps even out of the country.
While my main concern will always be the women affected by anti-abortion policies, Coleman’s provision, whether it’s about abortion or not, is an example of dangerous policymaking. When lawmakers bend state boundaries and weaponize citizens against each other to meet their own ends, that’s no longer rational legislation. To truly respect the abortion debate, anti-abortion proponents must differentiate reasonable advocacy from abuse of power. Policies such as Coleman’s surpass political disputes and anti-abortion support, threatening the reproductive and personal autonomy of the women within the state most of all.
Among other frightening abortion policy reversals and anti-abortion enforcements—such as the Supreme Court’s ongoing discussion on overturning Roe vs. Wade, Idaho’s newest law that allows family members of a “preborn child” to veto an abortion, and other anti-abortion policies in Alabama—it’s becoming clear that anti-abortion lawmakers prioritize political strategy over moral weight (Lithwick & Stern). After decades of progress and accessible abortions, women in states across the country are considering how to adjust under reactionary laws that lay ownership over their body and choices. If the provision passes (while in clear violation of technical laws and ethics), it sends a message to other lawmakers to stretch the boundaries of their state or the country until each one of their opinions fits into the legal framework.