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St. Louis aldermen OK spending for access to out-of-state abortions

From left: Kendyl Underwood, a 20-year-old St. Louis University student studying nursing, demonstrates in support of abortion rights on Friday, June 24, 2022, outside the Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri. “The only thing we can do is push back,” Underwood said. “It’s not democracy for [the Supreme Court] to pass this and we have to make that heard.”
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
Demonstrators in support of abortion rights on June 24 outside the Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri. The St. Louis Board of Aldermen approved a plan Friday that would use federal coronavirus relief funds to help those seeking abortions out of state.

The St. Louis Board of Aldermen approved a bill Friday to use federal coronavirus relief money to provide logistical and travel help for St. Louis residents seeking out-of-state abortions.

The bill, which passed 15-8, allocates $1 million toward travel expenses and child care costs. Another $500,000 would go to other reproductive health care services like lactation consultants and doulas. And $250,000 would be used to evaluate and administer grants.

“We are doing everything we can to make sure that people in our community who need health care can get access to it,” said 8th Ward Alderwoman Annie Rice, a sponsor of the bill.

The bill includes $1.6 million for coronavirus testing and treating low-income patients. Federal coronavirus relief funds must be used to address the pandemic. The bill’s language specifies how the pandemic has disproportionately affected women of color.

Mayor Tishaura Jones said she will sign the legislation and praised its passage, saying it will “help make St. Louis a safer, stronger and fairer city.”

Almost all abortions were outlawed by the state last month after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. The ruling implemented a law passed by Missouri’s legislature that banned abortions in the state except for when the mother’s life is at risk.

Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt has said he would file a lawsuit challenging the St. Louis bill.

Some board members expressed concern over a potential lawsuit, including 1st Ward Alderwoman Sharon Tyus, who said she supports the overall goal of the bill. Rice noted the bill does not encourage someone to have an abortion or fund or assist the actual procedure. She also said the state may not have the authority to restrict federal funding.

“We are providing supports, we are providing child care and transportation,” Rice said. “We’re taking an aggressive stance here because we believe an aggressive stance is needed at this critical time.”

Tyus also proposed the city use some of the NFL settlement money it is expected to receive.

Others, including 14th Ward Alderwoman Carol Howard, worried other needs across the city have to be addressed.

“We’ve got workers employed by the city that are not even hardly able to support their families on the money they're making, we’ve got potholes, we’ve got trash,” Howard said. “I think this is a poor choice.”

Abortion rights advocates heralded the decision. Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri opened its regional logistics center in Fairview Heights earlier this year to address the influx of patients who would need to go to Illinois. The center helps plan travel and lodging for women seeking abortions out of their home state.

This funding approved Friday is critical for communities that already face barriers getting access to reproductive care, said Yamelsie Rodríguez, president and CEO of the local Planned Parenthood organization.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a toll on communities across our region, changing how families access reproductive health care including abortion and birth control,” Rodriguez said. “Solutions like the St. Louis Reproductive Equity Fund that help curb the impending public health crisis are exactly what patients need to live full, healthy lives.”

Follow Chad on Twitter: @iamcdavis

Chad is a general assignment reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.