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Will Memorial Hospital in Shiloh offer elective abortions for problem pregnancies?

Abortion opponents hold signs and distribute flyers to drivers outside  Memorial Hospital in Shiloh.
Abortion opponents who don’t want Memorial Hospital in Shiloh to start offering abortions to women carrying fetuses with “anomalies” hold signs and distribute flyers to drivers on March 7.

Abortion opponents have been carrying signs and distributing flyers outside Memorial Hospital in Shiloh for the past month, maintaining that the hospital is making plans to start offering abortions to women carrying fetuses with “anomalies.”

Twenty-eight out of 75 nurses and operating-room technicians in the hospital’s Family Care Birthing Center sent a letter of protest on March 2 to hospital President Michael McManus that the BND reviewed.

The letter called the issue “divisive and sensitive” and stated that allowing elective abortions to be performed in the labor and delivery unit would hurt morale that already is suffering due to understaffing, fatigue, burnout and loss of trust with management.

“Since we are not God (and) we are dealing with human life and mothers who are in a very vulnerable position, we do not feel right about unnecessarily foisting this decision upon our patients,” the letter stated. “… And making money off of these kinds of decisions goes all the more against our conscience.”

The BND also reviewed a Memorial email thread announcing a Feb. 6 staff meeting on the topic of “terminations for fetal anomalies,” and a revised medical-charting template that includes “termination” and “laminaria’‘ as offered services. Laminaria is a material used to dilate the cervix for abortion.

McManus didn’t reply to BND requests for an interview. In February, spokesmen for the hospital and BJC HealthCare, the St. Louis-based system that has owned Memorial locations in Belleville and Shiloh since 2018, declined to confirm or deny that they were making plans to start offering abortions in Shiloh.

“No changes have been made to Memorial’s reproductive health practices,” BJC spokeswoman Laura High wrote in an email on March 7. “Any information to the contrary is inaccurate. As always, our primary focus continues to be the health and safety (of) our patients.”

Change in practice, if not policy

Memorial’s bylaws already allow abortions in cases of “lethal fetal anomaly,” but the hospital doesn’t perform them on an elective basis, only in cases of medical emergency, according to a Birthing Center doctor who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation.

The doctor said scheduled abortions would be performed by Washington University physicians who formerly performed them at Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis, also owned by BJC HealthCare. An abortion ban went into effect in Missouri in June.

Fetal anomalies are conditions expected to result in birth defects. Lethal fetal anomalies are conditions expected to result in death soon after an infant is born or in the womb.

Many abortion-rights advocates argue that it’s cruel to force parents to continue pregnancies under these circumstances. Some states that ban abortion make exceptions when the life of the mother is in danger or in cases of rape, incest or lethal fetal anomalies.

About 30 abortion opponents, four at a time, are distributing flyers at Memorial entrances in Shiloh from 6:15 to 7:45 a.m. to catch employees changing shifts, according to coordinator Lyndon Joost, of Swansea. He described it as an awareness campaign, not a protest.

“Our intent is to help make the public aware that this is being considered, and we’re doing that silently,” Joost said. “We’re not stopping cars or walking up to people. It’s all very calm and peaceful.”

New landscape after Dobbs

The legal and political landscape for abortion changed dramatically on June 24, 2022, with the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. It overturned Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that gave women a constitutional right to abortion.

Since that time, bans have been enacted in 13 states, including Missouri, Kentucky and Wisconsin, and they’re being considered in others, such as Iowa and Indiana. This has increased demand for abortions in Illinois, where Gov. J.B. Pritzker promises to keep them legal.

In January, Pritzker signed a bill into law to expand access to abortions and protect out-of-state residents who seek them.

“Reproductive care is health care,” he said at the bill signing. “A medical decision should be made between a patient and their health care provider, no one else. Every single person, regardless of gender, sexuality, race and economic status, has the right to privacy and bodily autonomy, and when people come to Illinois to exercise those rights, they will be welcomed and protected.”

Illinois allows abortions up to 26 weeks of pregnancy. In the Metro East, they’re performed at Fairview Heights Health Center, operated by Planned Parenthood, and Hope Clinic in Granite City.

Lyndon Joost describes himself as a longtime “pro-life” advocate. He and his wife, Elaine Joost, decided not to end her pregnancy in 1999 after doctors diagnosed fetal anomalies.

Today, the couple have a 23-year-old daughter, Emily Joost, with Aicardi Syndrome, a rare genetic neurological disorder. She can’t feed, bathe or dress herself, speak or walk. Her parents call her “amazing” and “inspiring.”

“I believe human life begins at fertilization and that someone needs to defend the rights of that human being, and I’m willing to do that,” said Lyndon Joost, a retired city administrator and business owner.

Babies only delivered in Shiloh

Memorial Hospital formerly offered labor and delivery services at both its locations, but officials discontinued them in Belleville in April 2020, anticipating a surge in COVID-19 patients.

The flyer being distributed by abortion opponents at Shiloh entrances is titled “Why are We Standing Here?” It lists several actions they say hospital and BJC officials have taken as part of a plan to begin offering elective abortions, starting with the Feb. 6 meeting for Birthing Center employees.

“Our administrative team will discuss doing terminations for fetal anomalies,” the Birthing Center director wrote in the email thread about the meeting that the BND reviewed.

In the meeting, nurses and operating-room technicians were told they could “opt out” of assisting with abortions, according to two nurses who requested anonymity for fear of retaliation.

Memorial’s bylaws would require each abortion case to be reviewed by a physician in one of the hospital’s medical groups, and members were told in a meeting that they could opt out like the nurses and operating-room technicians, the Birthing Center doctor said.

The letter sent to McManus by nurses and operating-room technicians stated that they were “blindsided” by news that abortions might be offered at Memorial and that hospital administrators and other leaders had started the “conversation” last summer, around the same time as the Dobbs ruling.

Teri Maddox is a reporter with the Belleville News Democrat, a news partner of St. Louis Public Radio.

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