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‘We’ll be here every single day:’ Reps from St. Louis chapter of Planned Parenthood discuss services

On Thursday’s “St. Louis on the Air” the President and CEO of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri had one thing to say about her clinics’ services going forward after a gunman opened fire on a Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs on Nov. 27:

"We're going to be here every single day,” said Mary Kogut.  “We're going to continue to have our doors open.”

“We were open the next day and we took care of patients all over the St. Louis region,” said David Eisenberg, the Medical Director of the local organization. “We took care of patients on Saturday, the day after the shooting. And our staff also had to be taken care of because they’re appropriately upset when something like this happens.”

Services in St. Louis

Credit Kelly Moffitt | St. Louis Public Radio
Mary Kogut and David Eisenberg.

The local chapter of Planned Parenthood has six locations, and two others in Joplin and Springfield. Only one location, on Forest Park Avenue, provides surgical abortions. With no abortion providers at the Columbia location, St. Louis remains functionally the only place a woman can obtain a surgical abortion in the state of Missouri. Medical abortions are offered at the Fairview Heights, Ill., location.

While abortion remains the most controversial of Planned Parenthood’s services—and the service that fueled the act of terrorism against the Colorado Springs clinic—the reproductive health provider supplies a variety of other services—from birth control consultations, to a variety of STD tests, to other preventive screenings and well-woman exams.  Kogut says that it surprises some people that 14 percent of patients at the clinics are actually men.

Planned Parenthood serves 45,000 people in the St. Louis region each year with the above-mentioned services. Click through the gallery above to read through the experiences of some of those people above—almost all of the responses we received held Planned Parenthood in high regard. They responded to a Public Insight Network query about their experiences or emailed us their stories. You’re welcome to add to the gallery by emailing your experience with/thoughts on Planned Parenthood to talk@stlpublicradio.org. We welcome all points of view.

Safety after the shooting

Kogut said that the local chapter of Planned Parenthood is stepping back and taking a look at how it guarantees the safety of patients and medical services providers at area clinics following the mass shooting in Colorado.

“For years, we have worked with law enforcement and we’ve provided trainings to our staff and we ensure that we have safety precautions in place,” Kogut said.

"Access to basic reproductive healthcare services shouldn't require bullet-proof glass, metal detectors and bullet-proof vests for the providers."

“Access to basic reproductive healthcare services shouldn’t require bullet-proof glass, metal detectors and bullet-proof vests for the providers,” Eisenberg said. “This has unfortunately been a fact of healthcare in the country for 30 years or more that violence aimed at women’s and sexual and reproductive health care has sometimes found its way to Planned Parenthood health centers. We’ve been prepared for that here, they were prepared for that in Colorado Springs and thankfully they were because the violence was less than it could have been.”

Kogut cited a study from the National Abortion Federation that found there were 7,000 acts of violence against reproductive healthcare providers since 1977—including attempted murder, arson and acid-throwing.

“This has to stop; enough is enough,” Kogut said. “I think most Americans believe that, they believe this is too much and that the anti-women’s health, the really vile rhetoric, has gone too far.”

Fetal-tissue scandal

Even before the shooting at the Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood, the organization was embroiled in controversy earlier this year from a video that was edited to show a Planned Parenthood official attempting to profit from fetal-tissue sales. Unedited video shows the official explaining that Planned Parenthood does not profit from the sale of fetal tissue to research agency, but attempts to cover their costs for providing the tissue. In October, Planned Parenthood announced they would no longer accept reimbursements.

“No Planned Parenthood has ever profited from the donation of fetal tissue,” said Eisenberg.

On Thursday’s “St. Louis on the Air,” Kogut and Eisenberg clarified that fetal tissue is not distributed to medical research from local Planned Parenthood locations. One hundred percent of fetal tissue that is left over after an abortion is sent to pathologists who in turn, examine the tissue, and incinerate it. The only exception happens in the case of a law enforcement investigation of a rape, at which point Planned Parenthood will hand the tissue over to the officers for further investigation. That happens about once a quarter, said Eisenberg.

“We don’t have a fetal tissue donation program and the Missouri Attorney General did complete a very thorough investigation to show that we were compliant with all fetal tissue laws,” said Kogut. “To me, this should be a done issue.”

The looming threat of defunding

The controversy over abortion, women’s reproductive rights and the recent fetal-tissue news has some lawmakers looking to defund Planned Parenthood from a federal level.

Planned Parenthood is funded in the St. Louis region through self-pay, commercial insurance, Medicaid/Medicare and two centers in Missouri receive Title X funding for family planning. Kogut said that a defunding effort would have an impact on the St. Louis chapter’s ability to provide services to the region.

“We would do everything we could to mitigate that but I worry greatly. When you look at statistics in Missouri, around 400,000 are in need of subsidized family planning care—basic contraception, well-woman care, STD testing and treatment. We have wonderful federally-qualifieds here in town and we have them throughout the state, however we’re not hitting capacity right now. We’re not serving all the women who need us today.”

Many of the unserved are young women and people of color. Should defunding happen, Kogut said there would be more unintended pregnancy and higher rates of teen pregnancy.

Eisenberg added that research on Title X has shown that every dollar spent on family planning yields $8 in health care costs saved in the next five years. “There is no better public health intervention than family planning and reproductive services,” Eisenberg added.  

Going forward

Many people suggest that efforts to defund Planned Parenthood are due to the fact the organization provides abortions. Eisenberg and Kogut disagree—they say that these efforts are rooted in an overall effort to reduce women’s reproductive rights.

“When it comes to reproductive health care, it is somehow treated differently by a segment of this population, primarily politicians who do not represent the majority of this country, in a way that it is controlling women and women’s ability to have self-determination,” Eisenberg said. “We’re talking contraception, we’re talking access to STI testing and treatment and we’re talking about abortion. It is not just abortion that is threatened.”

Kogut added that there is no federal money allocated to abortion services—federal funding from Title X and Medicaid goes to preventive care such as birth control and pap smears.

“If these politicians really wanted to see these abortion numbers go down, they would fund contraceptive services and make them universally available and ensure comprehensive sex education in our schools,” Eisenberg said. “Those are the interventions that reduce abortions.”

This report contains information gathered with the help of our Public Insight Network.  Click here to see more code words suggested by PIN sources. To learn more about the network and how you can become a source, please click here.

"St. Louis on the Air" discusses issues and concerns facing the St. Louis area. The show is produced by Mary EdwardsAlex Heuer and Kelly Moffitt and hosted by veteran journalist Don Marsh. Follow us on Twitter and join the conversation at @STLonAir.

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Kelly Moffitt joined St. Louis Public Radio in 2015 as an online producer for St. Louis Public Radio's talk shows St. Louis on the Air.