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Advocate: Black Women Will Face Greatest Challenge If Planned Parenthood Closes

Women protest in downtown St. Louis on May 30, 2019, to influence Missouri Circuit Judge Michael Stelzer's decision on the fate of St. Louis' last abortion clinic.
File photo | Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio
Women rally in support of the St. Louis Planned Parenthood on May 30.

A local reproductive rights activist says the loss of Missouri's last clinic that provides abortions would be dire for black women.

Pamela Merritt, co-founder of Reproaction and the emcee of the pro-Planned Parenthood rally held on Thursday in downtown St. Louis, said black women will be disportionately impacted if the reproductive health services clinic loses its license to perform abortions.

“When I think about the low wage worker, or shift worker and the single mother who is balancing childcare, work, life and family, it is just overwhelming,” Merritt said. “And to think about what black women are able to accomplish in 24 hours -- this is just an additional burden.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control, the risk of pregnancy-related death is three to four times higher for black women than white women.

Merritt said if Missouri’s only abortion clinic closes, then women would have to travel to Illinois to receive pregnancy termination services.

And for low-income black women, finding transportation could be a challenge.

“It is outrageous to me that black women now have an additional burden of trying to juggle daunting schedules and finances to access care,” Merritt said.

The St. Louis Planned Parenthood's license came into question by the state after a patient filed a complaint.

Judge Michael Stelzer’s ruling on Friday keeps the clinic’s license in effect until he rules on Planned Parenthood’s request for a preliminary injunction that would bar the state Department of Health and Senior Services from denying a renewed license to Reproductive Health Services of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region. A hearing is set for 9 a.m. Tuesday. 

The possibility of Missouri losing the only abortion provider left in the state comes against the backdrop of a new restrictive abortion law signed by Gov. Mike Parson in May. The measure bans most abortions after eight weeks of pregnancy and will go into effect in August.

Nine states including Missouri already have restrictive abortion laws in place.

Rep. Cora Faith Walker, D-Ferguson, cried on the House floor before the bill was passed as she reflected on the dire statistics facing black women who get pregnant.

Andrea Y. Henderson is part of the public-radio collaborative Sharing America, covering the intersection of race, identity and culture. This initiative, funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, includes reporters in Hartford, St. Louis, Kansas City, and Portland, Oregon. Follow Andrea at @drebjournalist.

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.

Andrea covers race, identity & culture at St. Louis Public Radio.

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.