St. Louis Officials Advance Proposal to Help Women Travel Out of State for Abortions
ST. LOUIS — Lawmakers in Missouri’s most populous city have advanced a proposal to create a $1 million fund to provide transportation to women who want to seek abortions in a neighboring state.
The bill approved by the St. Louis Board of Aldermen would use federal COVID-19 relief funds to provide logistical and travel help for St. Louis residents seeking out-of-state abortions.
The bill, which passed 15-8, allocates $1 million towards travel expenses and child care costs. An additional $500,000 would go to other reproductive health care services like lactation consultants and doulas.
Another $250,000 would be used to evaluate and administer grants.
“We are taking an aggressive stance here because we believe that an aggressive stance is needed at this critical time,” said Alderwoman Annie Rice, who represents the city’s 8th Ward.
The city’s action was inspired, of course, by the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last month to overturn the landmark 1973 ruling in Roe v. Wade that recognized abortion as a constitutional right.
Mere minutes after the high court’s decision was released on June 24, Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt, a Republican, issued an opinion that enacted Missouri’s trigger ban — making Missouri one of the first states to outlaw nearly all abortions.
Missouri Gov. Mike Parson, also a Republican, followed with a proclamation declaring the law as in effect.
Under Missouri’s trigger law, which was passed in 2019, abortions will only be permitted in cases of a medical emergency. There are no exceptions for rape or incest under the law.
Health care providers who violate the law can be guilty of a class B felony, which can result in five to 15 years in prison, and have their medical license suspended or revoked.
Women who receive an abortion cannot be prosecuted in violation of the law.
The plan approved by the St. Louis Board of Aldermen would pay for transportation, hotel rooms and child care by using funding the city received through the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021.
“We are in a position now where we are doing the most that we can, with the laws that we have, with the funding that is available,” Rice said.
The measure also provides funding for maternal reproductive services throughout a woman’s experience with pregnancy, postpartum and miscarriages.
In addition, the bill will invest in mental health care and logistical support to help Americans gain reproductive needs. Funds will not be used to counsel people to get an abortion or for abortion procedures.
To illustrate how desperate the need for reproductive services is in Missouri, Rice described the first call she received after the Supreme Court’s decision was announced.
“The first call I got, asking for help to connect someone with resources, was about a child, a child not even out of middle school,” she said.
“No one’s story needs to be this devastating to also be an utter failure of bodily autonomy and health care access. It is merely that someone else claims the right to your body without your consent. We can use this money to help organizations be available to respond to difficult situations,” Rice said.
Missouri currently has the seventh highest mortality rate in the country, with African American women being four times more likely to suffer maternal deaths.
Statistics by America’s Health Rankings show that in Missouri there are 32.9 deaths per 100,000 births to White women and a disproportionate 91.9 deaths per 100,000 births for Black women.
Rice said the measure approved by the board of aldermen will reduce the mortality rate and help minorities get the resources they need.
“The more that we can care for people throughout and after their pregnancy the more we are able to keep people alive,” Rice said.
Rice explained that the fund will work closely with organizations in Missouri such as the St. Louis Doula Project. The project provides a health care worker and a trained supporter to women during their pregnancy.
“A doula is someone who holds space for you and focuses on your needs as you go through birth. A doula keeps you in mind and encourages your loved ones on how to support you,” Alyssa Lazzeroni, the St. Louis Doula Project’s co-chair, shared.
“The ARPA money has no restrictions on abortion care. It’s different from federal funding in that way,” Rice explained. The ARPA is focused on the needs of local and state governments, administering $350 billion of emergency resources across the country.
“There are legal opinions that say that we could even use this money to provide funding for abortions directly, even in the state of Missouri. We are not doing that. We are providing support, and we are providing child care and transportation,” Rice said.
Several officials on the St. Louis Board of Aldermen oppose funneling ARPA money into Board Bill 61.
“This could be tied up in court for literally years,” said Alderman Joe Vaccaro, who represents the city’s 23rd Ward.
“A lot of people that have been writing to me have been saying, we have potholes, we don’t have police, our trash isn’t being picked up — is it proper to tie this money up in court?” Vaccaro said.
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