Why ‘Vague And Confusing’ Missouri Anti-Abortion Bill Is Still Dangerous
Another Republican introduced a bill aiming to restrict abortion access in Missouri, part of a wave of such measures advancing in legislatures nationwide.
On Wednesday, Rep. Brian Seitz introduced House Bill 2810, which would criminalize the production, manufacturing or provision of “any instrument, device, medicine, drug” used for an abortion “in violation of any state or federal law.”
The bill text appears to be “duplicative,” as Planned Parenthood Missouri spokesperson Bonyen Lee-Gilmore put it — making it illegal to provide tools or drugs for abortion services that are already in violation of the law.
When asked if his bill text was in fact duplicative of current law, Seitz told HuffPost: “Correct, right… I can see your point,” and added that his team would “take a look” and “clean up the language.”
His goal, he said, is to “produce legislation for the mailing of these devices or drugs, and then if they are used in an unlawful manner, against state or federal law, that is going to be the crime.” (It’s already illegal in Missouri to order abortion medication in the mail.)
But just because the bill is confusingly written and does not, in fact, appear to prohibit anything that isn’t already illegal doesn’t mean it is harmless.
The bill, if passed, could create a “chilling effect,” as Lee-Gilmore put it, on companies and health care providers that make tools or offer medication for women’s reproductive health in the state — for abortion care and for other basic health procedures.
“It’s just writing in being suspicious of reproductive health care providers,” Lee-Gilmore said. “It wouldn’t be illegal to manufacture a speculum on its face, but they’re introducing the question of whether it’ll be used illegally. It opens reproductive health care providers to investigations.”
She said the concern with such bills is in their being so “vague and confusing” that “enforcement becomes a giant question mark,” creating “a chilling effect on access.”
“What does this mean for us as providers?” she added. “It leaves people questioning: Am I going to jail for doing this thing?”
Ectopic pregnancies can be life-threatening if the pregnancy is not quickly terminated. Lee-Gilmore said the lawmaker appears to be“conflating” miscarriage management with abortion in this legislative text, “which can be very dangerous to the provision of care.”
Seitz told HuffPost that his team has seen pushback on the part about ectopic pregnancies and is “adding an amendment to clarify” that would read: “nothing in this section shall be construed to limit a licensed physician or health care provider from performing a lawful medical procedure on a patient to treat an ectopic pregnancy.”
In response to the bill, Republican state Senate Majority Leader Cale Rowden tweeted that if it makes it to the Senate, it will be “DOA,” or dead on arrival.
Seitz called Rowden’s tweet “yet another example of failed moderate Republican leadership.”
Meanwhile, in a debate on the bill Wednesday, Seitz said he’d “have to look at” legislation to give the death penalty to people who participate in the “murder of an infant in the womb” in an “illegal manner.”
On the phone with HuffPost, the lawmaker didn’t appear to know the current law on abortion in the state, saying the procedure was illegal after eight weeks. (HuffPost clarified to him that the 2019 law banning abortion after eight weeks was actually blocked by the courts — current law is 22 weeks.)
Missouri is already one of the most restrictive states when it comes to access to abortion. There is currently only one abortion provider in the state, a Planned Parenthood clinic in St. Louis.
Earlier this week, another Missouri lawmaker introduced a bill trying to stop residents from seeking abortion even in other states.
Planned Parenthood’s Lee-Gilmore called Missouri a “testing ground” for how far anti-abortion legislation can be taken.
“We take every attack against abortion access seriously,” she said, saying no legislation is too “wild” to be “out of realm of possibility of becoming law and enforced.”
“I think about patients already extremely confused about navigating an already complicated abortion access landscape,” Lee-Gilmore said. “Understand these are intimidation tactics, and we as providers won’t back down.”