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St. Louis aldermen advance $1 million in ARPA funds for abortion access

Planned Parenthood affiliates hang a banner that reads “bans off our bodies” on Friday, June 24, 2022, in St. Louis. Thousands marched throughout the country on Friday after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, which largely deals with abortion care, on Friday through the case Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization.
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis aldermen have given first-round approval to a bill that would cover the costs of people who need to travel for abortion. The procedure is mostly banned in Missouri, after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade on June 24, setting off protests like the one above.

Using federal funding to help St. Louis residents access abortion moved one step closer Friday to approval.

Because abortion is illegal in Missouri except in a medical emergency, people who need the procedure for other reasons must travel to obtain it. The Board of Aldermen gave first-round approval to a measure that allocates $1 million in American Rescue Plan Act money to cover costs like hotels or child care.

“I am honored to be bringing this bill forward,” said 8th Ward Alderwoman Annie Rice, the measure’s lead sponsor. “At this moment in time, because of the challenges we face, we are required to meet the moment head-on.”

In addition to the $1 million in logistical support funds, there is $500,000 for reproductive health care, including doulas and lactation consultants. Because coronavirus relief money must be used to combat the effects of the ongoing pandemic, the bill’s text specifically references how the “COVID-19 public health crisis exacerbated social and economic inequities, and women, Black women and mothers are at the lowest workforce participation rate in 30 years.”

“The COVID-19 pandemic absolutely disproportionately impacted our community’s access to health care,” said Alderwoman Shameem Clark Hubbard of the 26th Ward, one of the measure’s 14 co-sponsors. “As a Black woman, and a mother, and in a position to be able to vote for this, my vote is a loud aye.”

The measure sets aside $1.6 million so federally qualified health centers, which provide primary care for lower-income residents, can continue to test for and treat COVID-19 and provide vaccines. The allocation is meant to fill a void left when Congress failed to reach a deal on spending for coronavirus response. Rice said the $1.6 million should last until the end of 2022.

It was the coronavirus portion of the bill that prompted Brandon Bosley of the 3rd Ward to oppose it.

“My community is murdering each other every day,” said Bosley, who has often expressed anti-vaccine views. “These folks aren’t going to go get no vaccination. They are not tripping off of dodging corona. We’re dodging bullets every day.”

He suggested that some of the money be directed toward the needs of his community, such as covering the cost of vehicle registration so mothers can get to work without fearing a traffic stop for driving on temporary tags.

The measure needs one more vote to reach the desk of Mayor Tishaura Jones. The 15-8 vote on Friday, with one member voting present and one missing the meeting, means that under Board of Aldermen rules, every one of those yes votes will be needed to get final approval.

Jones has said she will sign the bill, and Attorney General Eric Schmitt has already promised a lawsuit. Though the measure includes language that allows parts of the bill to take effect if others are struck down, 23rd Ward Alderman Joe Vaccaro said an extended legal fight could prevent any of the money from flowing.

“It will be tied up in courts for probably years,” he said. “I see this as nothing more than a political stunt. It does no good for anybody.”

Follow Rachel on Twitter: @rlippmann

Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.