Missouri Abortion Ban Would Hit Marginalized Communities Hardest | St. Louis Subway News | St.Louis | St. Louis news and events

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Ruben Hemmer

After Politico leaked a draft majority opinion of the US Supreme Court vehemently overturning the constitutional right to abortion, St. Louis residents rallied in protest.

Ask any pro-choice advocate if they were surprised that the Supreme Court’s leaked draft advisory opinion was overturned Roe v. calfand they will most likely say no.

Pamela Merritt, executive director of Medical Students for Choice and an abortion rights advocate, began “mourning for Roe immediately after Donald Trump was elected.” dr Erin King — executive director of the Hope Clinic for Women in Granite City, Illinois — says access to abortion has been virtually non-existent for years, even without a Supreme Court ruling.

For decades, the mostly conservative state legislature dissolved the state pool of abortion providers. Thirty years ago the state had 29 abortion clinics compared to the only survivor operating in the Central West End today. And from 2020 to 2021, the number of abortions performed in Missouri fell from 1,471 to 179, according to the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services.

click to enlarge Previously, there were nearly 30 abortion clinics in Missouri.  Now there is only one.  - DANNY WICENTOWSKI

DANNY WICENTOWSKI

Previously, there were nearly 30 abortion clinics in Missouri. Now there is only one.

Pro-Choice Missouri executive director Mallory Schwarz says regulations and state laws that have been in place for years have made abortion almost inaccessible.

“We’ve been operating in an essentially post-Roe environment for many years, and the majority of people in the state are already being forced to flee the state to access abortions,” Schwarz says.

So, in a state where access to abortion has steadily shrunk, who will be most affected by a near-total abortion ban once the Supreme Court strikes down? roe? Minority and low-income Missourians will bear the brunt.

People with financial means have always had access to abortion treatments, says Dr. Colleen McNicholas, chief medical officer for reproductive health services at Planned Parenthood in the St. Louis area and southwest Missouri.

“If you have money, you can get on a plane and go somewhere else,” says McNicholas. “But what we do know from our experience working with people in Missouri is that abortion restrictions will always disproportionately hit the most marginalized and marginalized communities.”

Missouri is one of 13 states with so-called “trigger laws” that will end nearly all post-fall abortions roe. Many of these states, such as Arkansas, Kentucky, and Oklahoma, are in the Midwest. Other states without “trigger laws,” including Kansas, where Almost half of the abortions performed in 2020 were for Missourianscan also see other limitations.

click to enlarge Missouri is one of 26 states (marked red-orange) that are likely to ban abortion if the Supreme Court ruled Roe v.  Wade picks up.  - GUTTMACHER INSTITUTE

Missouri is one of 26 states (marked red-orange) that are likely to ban abortion if the Supreme Court ruled Roe v. Wade picks up.

As the number of abortion providers shrinks, so does the availability of appointments. Merritt says certain clinics are already experiencing delays of up to four weeks.

“People on lower incomes are already struggling to afford their abortion treatment, but every week an abortion is delayed, it becomes more expensive,” Merritt says. “My deep concern is that people will not be able to take time off from work and there are always childcare concerns.”

In 2019, Planned Parenthood opened a location in Fairview Heights, Illinois, as “a haven of access,” McNicholas says, in anticipation of more abortion restrictions in Missouri and surrounding states. The clinic now sees patients from as far as Texas.

According to McNicholas, Planned Parenthood plans to hire more staff and longer hours of operation to meet increased demand. Additionally, earlier this year, the Planned Parenthood and Hope Clinic for Women opened a regional logistics center to support patients with travel, housing and financial support.

For people who still can’t afford the trip — the homeless, rural dwellers, undocumented people, anyone who doesn’t earn enough to afford both the trip and the procedure — the impact of an abortion ban will still be felt be devastating, McNicholas adds.

“Some will be able to patch together a support system that gets them out of the state, but for others it means expanding their family or parenthood when they don’t want to,” says McNicholas.

The majority of patients seeking abortion treatment in the United States are poor, unmarried, and young. King estimates that more than 60 percent of Hope Clinic for Women patients are single. The majority are either uninsured or underinsured, and about 60 to 65 percent of the Missouri clinic’s patients fall below the state poverty line.

“Each year we have more people seeking care who are literally unable to meet their basic needs of food and shelter,” says King.

click to enlarge dr  Erin King is executive director of the Hope Clinic for Women in Granite City, Illinois.  -ALISON DREITH

ALISON DREITH

dr Erin King is executive director of the Hope Clinic for Women in Granite City, Illinois.

This is why there are abortion funds like the Missouri Abortion Fund.

The Missouri Abortion Fund works with several abortion clinics to help patients who cannot afford abortion procedures or the travel that would be required to get to a clinic.

In 2021, the Missouri Abortion Fund assisted 1,866 Missourians with money for abortion treatments. According to CEO Michele Landeau, only two of those abortions have been performed in the state of Missouri.

A total abortion ban in Missouri would mean all patients would likely have to pay more to travel farther. And as more Midwestern states restrict access, it’s getting harder to get appointments in freedom states.

“These clinics that Missourians have been fleeing to for years are the same ones that everyone else from all these other states will be going to,” Landeau says. “This will increase waiting times and drive pregnancy forward, requiring more money and sometimes maybe more specialized care.”

An abortion ban will hit black residents hardest. According to the latest data from Centers for Disease ControlBlack women make up the largest percentage of the nation’s abortion patients at 38.4 percent.

Black mothers are also at higher risk of dying from pregnancy, King says.

The United States has the highest maternal mortality rate of any developed country. The CDC says black women are three times more likely than white women to die within a year of pregnancy. In Missouri, they are four times more likely. Women who receive Medicaid are also four times more likely to die within a year of pregnancy than privately insured women.

“Pregnancy is truly a matter of life and death for thousands of people, many of whom are on low incomes,” says Merritt.

Merritt is also concerned about how the potential criminalization of abortion could affect minority communities.

If the Supreme Court actually passes its opinion as currently written, that of Missouri Law on the right to life of the unborn child may be initiated by the governor, attorney general, or state legislature. The law states that “any person who knowingly performs or obtains an abortion” is guilty of a Class B felony and is liable to have their license suspended or revoked.

The law states that those who obtain an abortion will not be prosecuted, but whether the state considers those who take abortion-causing drugs at home as “abortion providers” is unclear.

“When we talk about criminalization in Missouri, particularly in St. Louis, we’re talking about communities of color and immigrant and migrant communities that have already been hyper-surveilled and hyper-policed,” Merritt says. “There’s no way not to be concerned that people are being monitored or jailed for their pregnancy outcomes.”

The Supreme Court is expected to make a final decision on whether to overturn Roe v. calf in June or July, but the decision could come earlier.

With a 20-year career as an abortion advocate, Merritt has been warning of what will happen if abortion is abolished for decades. Once a ban becomes a reality, she hopes it will at least serve as a wake-up call for government officials.

“People will feel that, and maybe we need that,” says Merritt. “The Show-Me State is about to see what happens when the entire Midwest Corridor goes dark except for one or two states.”

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