On the same day last week a Missouri judge issued an order keeping open the state’s only abortion clinic, the Illinois Senate passed the Reproductive Health Act, guaranteeing women have the right to reproductive health, including abortion.
Tuesday, a St. Louis Circuit Court judge will hear arguments about whether the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services may continue to deny a renewed license to Reproductive Health Services of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region.
And depending on what Judge Michael Stelzer’s decides, Illinois may see a rise in pregnant women coming to the state to seek a legal abortions.
“We believe that is every woman’s right to make these decisions and we don’t believe those lines are defined by your ZIP code,” said Illinois Sen. Melinda Bush, D-Grayslake, who sponsored the Illinois bill.
That bill establishes that women have the right to reproductive healthcare, which includes the right to use or refuse contraception as well as the right to continue a pregnancy and give birth or have an abortion.
The St. Louis Planned Parenthood clinic closing would strain Illinois’ abortion providers, Bush said.
“I just suggest that Missouri reconsider what they are doing. Women should not have to travel across states to get reproductive health care,” Bush said.
An undue burden to neighboring states
Five years ago, Mississippi threatened to close its only abortion clinic — the Jackson Women’s Health Organization — after passing a law that required doctors who worked at the clinic to have admitting privileges at local hospitals. Neither of the two doctors who worked at the clinic had such privileges.
Attorneys for the state argued that if the clinic closed, women could go to a neighboring state to obtain an abortion.
A three-judge panel of the Fifth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled in a 2-1 decision that the law was unconstitutional. In the decision, the court stated that the clinic's closure would put undue pressure on its neighboring states and women seeking abortions. That had the effect of keeping the Mississippi clinic open.
“A state cannot lean on its sovereign neighbors to provide protection of its citizens’ federal constitutional rights,” Judge E. Grady Jolly wrote in the opinion.
“Pre-viability, a woman has the constitutional right to end her pregnancy by abortion,” he continued. If upheld, this law “effectively extinguishes that right within Mississippi’s borders.”
Could a conservative majority spell change?
At the time, the U.S. Supreme Court decided not to review that 2013 appeals court’s decision.
But times are different, said Julie Lynn, of Illinois Planned Parenthood. She said with a conservative majority on the court, there is a real possibility that Roe v. Wade could be overturned by the Supreme Court.
The Missouri clinic closure would put a strain on clinics in Illinois, Lynn and Bush said.
The Hope Clinic for Women in Granite City is 10 minutes from downtown St. Louis. A St. Louis Public Radio reporter who called the clinic was on-hold Monday morning for more than 30 minutes before the call was dropped. An online schedule showed the clinic was still accepting appointments this week.
Illinois is one of 16 states where Medicaid covers elective abortions. In Illinois, there are no insurance coverage limitations. Missouri has limitations on abortion coverage for Medicaid, private insurance and within the marketplace.
“We are going to do everything that we can to make sure that patients can access safe, legal abortion wherever they need it,” Lynn said.
The hearing to decide the future of the Planned Parenthood clinic in St. Louis is scheduled for Tuesday morning.
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