At least if the Missouri bill offers any example, these provisions will reach beyond doctors to criminalize anyone involved in advertising, transport to or support for abortion. And history suggests that a broad category of “accomplices” can face consequences when abortion is a crime.
In the late 19th century, when states began criminalizing early abortions, few authorized the punishment of women. Even in those that treated women as “accomplices” in their own abortions, prosecutors rarely pursued them. But women were forced to testify not only against doctors but also against lovers, friends, and others who helped them get abortions. After the Supreme Court overrules Roe, a new punitive chapter seems set to begin.
That’s because “trafficking” has always been a term that conservatives have relied on to ramp up criminal law interventions in the context of public health. Abortion may fall prey to this bait-and-switch.
The law in Missouri mimics these moves from the war on drugs in its emphasis on being punitive rather than reducing harm. The Missouri law makes it possible for the state to charge people with trafficking if an individual takes part in a range of activities that could include simply providing an individual with medication abortion — or carrying it across state lines. The FDA has approved the use of medication abortion up to 10 weeks of pregnancy. The Missouri law subjects doctors who follow those guidelines to up to 15 years in prison.
Across the political spectrum, Americans acknowledge that the war on drugs was a failure, and yet its logic has been transported into the realm of abortion. How long will it take to realize that the war on abortion will be a failure too?