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London protest against Texas’ near-total abortion ban, 2021
London protest against Texas’ near-total abortion ban, 2021Photography Bex Wade

Missouri wants residents to snitch on people seeking out-of-state abortions

Following plans to ban abortion after eight weeks in 2019, Missouri’s anti-abortion lawmakers are now looking for ‘creative approaches’ to block access to safe abortion clinics across state lines

This week has seen a wave of regressive legislation gain traction across the US, from Florida’s anti-LGBTQ+ “Don’t Say Gay” bill, to Idaho’s criminalisation of healthcare for transgender minors. Now, the middle American state of Missouri is trying to stop residents from travelling beyond state boundaries to seek abortions.

Since Missouri announced a law to make almost all abortions illegal after eight weeks in 2019, thousands of its residents have travelled to the neighbouring state of Illinois to receive abortions, according to the Washington Post. Legal challenges from Planned Parenthood and other activist organisations have held off a full-scale ban so far, but Missouri is one of several states with only one remaining abortion clinic.

In response to Missouri residents seeking out-of-state abortions, the Republican lawmaker Mary Elizabeth Coleman wants to enable private citizens to sue anyone who helps them. Sound familiar? Last year, the bigoted Texas governor Greg Abbott used a similar legal strategy to enforce the state’s so-called “heartbeat bill”, which introduced a near-total ban on abortions past six weeks, even in cases such as rape and incest. 

Nevertheless, states surrounding Texas reported an almost 800 per cent increase in abortion patients from Texas between September and December last year, while other residents accessed abortion pills sent by post. On social media, activists also organised campaigns to flood dedicated anti-abortion whistleblowing sites with false tip-offs and Shrek porn.

The new measures to incentivise snitching in Missouri are attached as an amendment to several abortion bills that have made it through committee and are awaiting approval by the House of Representatives.

Abortion rights campaigners claim that the changes are unconstitutional, with Olivia Cappello, the press officer for state media campaigns at Planned Parenthood, calling the proposal: “The most extraordinary provision we have ever seen.” 

However, support for “creative approaches” to anti-abortion efforts is apparently strong in the the Republican-led Missouri legislature. “If your neighboring state doesn’t have pro-life protections, it minimises the ability to protect the unborn in your state,” says Coleman, who has been opposing Planned Parenthood’s attempts to offer safe abortion access on the Missouri border since 2019, in a statement shared by the Washington Post.

It’s unclear how the legislation, if passed, would actually be enforced in Missouri, but there are also fears that it could become a new normal in Republican-led states aiming to stop residents travelling to Democrat-led states for abortion access. The majority-conservative Supreme Court’s potential to overturn or weaken Roe v. Wade only adds to these fears, with pro-choice activists suggesting that US decisions on abortion could set new, grim precedents across the world.