Abortion Providers Preparing For Influx Of Patients In The Metro East As Texas Law Takes Effect
Editor’s note: This story was originally published by the Belleville News-Democrat, a news partner of St. Louis Public Radio.
Two Metro East clinics that offer abortions are preparing for a wave of new patients from Texas and other states following a restrictive abortion law that went into effect last week in Texas.
The two clinics, one in Fairview Heights and one in Granite City, are the only sites that provide abortions in southern Illinois and are also an alternative for Missouri residents. Clinic leaders expect a recent Supreme Court decision to allow a Texas law that bans abortions after six weeks to go into affect means more patients will be heading to Illinois, where abortions are protected under state law.
Planned Parenthood St. Louis President of Reproductive Health Yamelsie Rodriguez said Thursday before a rally on the steps of the Old Courthouse in downtown St. Louis that the health clinic has been fielding calls from possible patients for weeks, even before an appeal against the Texas law was denied by the Supreme Court in a 5-4 decision.
“For the majority of the people in Missouri who have to overcome many hurdles and barriers to get an abortion, Roe has already been deemed meaningless,” she said. “Now we’re seeing that in other states, including Texas.”
Rodriguez and many others who spoke at Thursday’s rally, including St. Louis Mayor Tishuara Jones and U.S. Rep. Cori Bush, say the Texas law makes Roe v. Wade meaningless because women often don’t know they’re pregnant six weeks into a pregnancy.
Missouri Republicans have said a similar law will be introduced to the state legislature in the near future, meaning restrictions on Missouri’s only health clinic that offers abortion in St. Louis City could be further restricted. Currently, a law that would ban abortions in Missouri eight weeks into a pregnancy is being challenged in federal court, making it not legally enforceable.
Rodriguez said calls from people seeking abortions or who are just confused about the new law have been pouring in over the past several weeks and some patients from Texas have already been treated. In Illinois, abortions are protected under the Reproductive Rights Act, which was signed into law by Gov. J.B. Pritzker in 2019. It protects individuals’ “fundamental right to make autonomous decisions about one’s own reproductive health.”
At Hope Clinic in Granite City, Deputy Director Alsion Dreith said while only a single patient from Texas has called so far, many others have called to question what the new ban means.
“They’re seeing headlines or seeing news on social media and they don’t necessarily know how it impacts them, or the state they live in, or where they’re seeking care,” Dreith said in an interview Thursday. “We’re fielding a lot of that anxiety.”
With an expected influx of patients, Rodriguez said that the clinic is ramping up its capacity in order to not only allow for more patients but also offer services that will remove any barriers between patients and an abortion.
“We are making sure that we are not only ready to see an influx in patients who need abortion care but also that we are taking care of all the additional wraparound services,” Rodriguez said.
She said those services include financial assistance, transportation or any other accommodations for women seeking abortions. “We are increasing our capacity so we can ensure we remove all the barriers that prevent people from access to care.”
Laws played part in Planned Parenthood Fairview Heights Location
Laws like Texas’ six-week abortion ban and Missouri’s plans for a similar law played a large role in building a larger facility in Fairview Heights in 2019. Rodriguez said it became clear for Planned Parenthood that abortion access would continue to be restricted in Missouri and elsewhere after the state passed a law banning abortions after eight weeks. That’s the law that’s being challenged in federal court.
“We saw the writing on the walls as services continued to be decimated across the region,” she said. “We knew we had to protect access to care no matter what so we decided to go on the offense, transformational and build a health center in Fairview Heights, which we consider an oasis for reproductive health and rights.”
Missouri Rep. Mary Elizabeth Coleman, an Arnold Republican and one of the state’s leading anti-abortion legislators, plans to offer a bill similar to the Texas law. In addition to banning abortion at six weeks — earlier than many people are even aware that they’re pregnant — the Texas law allows citizens to sue providers and others who assist people getting the procedure.
“We know once one state passes a ban, similar legislation gets pushed around to other legislatures,” Dreith said. “It’s not just Missouri we’re worried about.”
The Fairview Heights clinic was marred by protestors when it opened in 2019. They called on the city government to keep the clinic from opening. The 40,000-square foot clinic offers surgical and medication abortions, as well as family planning services, annual exams, sexually transmitted infection testing and HIV prevention.
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker reiterated his support to providing abortions last week, after the Texas law went into effect.
While recent news for abortion-rights supporters has been bleak, Rodriguez said she’s not giving up hope and reiterated that abortions are still legal in Missouri and Illinois. She said going forward, however, less faith is being put in the courts to uphold Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that ruled the Constitution protects a woman’s liberty to choose to have an abortion.
“More than ever before we can no longer rely on the courts to be our backstop,” she said. “We’re going to have to start demanding that our elected officials from Jefferson City to the White House protect access to reproductive care and specifically abortion.”
Kavahn Mansouri is a reporter with the Belleville News-Democrat, a news partner of St. Louis Public Radio.