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March for Life participants return from D.C. as a Missouri-based anti-abortion march gears up

Teenagers and chaperones with the Archdiocese of St. Louis look out on the crowd marching against abortion January 27, 2017.
Provided | Archdiocese of St. Louis
Teenagers and chaperones with the Archdiocese of St. Louis look out on the crowd marching against abortion January 27, 2017.

Some 2,000 St. Louisans boarded busses to attend the March for Life in Washington D.C. last Friday. The anti-abortion march marked its 44th year this year. It was originally created in protest of the United States Supreme Court’s decision legalizing abortion in Roe v. Wade.

On Tuesday’s St. Louis on the Air, we heard from two local participants in the national march. Reagan Barklage is the western regional director of the Students for Life of America.

Chuck Raymond was a participant in the March for Life and is also part of the Respect Life Apostolate with the St. Louis Archdiocese. When he was seventeen, his girlfriend became unexpectedly pregnant and had an abortion. He said “we’ve grieved with that, denied it, ignored it for many, many years but eventually we found peace and healing.”

We also heard from Kathy Forck, the co-organizer of the Midwest March for Life, an anti-abortion march taking place this weekend in Jefferson City. The march calls participants from across the state of Missouri, as well as participants from states like Arkansas, Illinois and Kansas.

Forck found out from her father that she was almost aborted, but that her mother sought a second opinion before proceeding with it. She said learning of that story helped her understand why she was drawn to the anti-abortion movement.

During Tuesday’s segment, we heard from the participants about why they are pro-life and what they would like to see changed. You can read about their comments, with fact-checking about statements they made regarding federal funding for women’s health care and Planned Parenthood, below.

Within the week,we will also speak with people on the opposite side of the spectrum regarding the debate over abortion rights.

‘The tide has turned’

“The tide has just turned and, as Vice President Pence put it so eloquently, ‘life is winning,’ and we could not be happier to be a part of this,” Forck said. “There’s a lot of enthusiasm. People feel like finally the voice of those who are standing up for the voice of the unborn has been heard.”

Raymond said that he hopes high turnout at anti-abortion marches will impact government officials, but the marches also serve as a chance to encourage and inspire fellow participants. He felt that support for the pro-life movement is growing.

Reagan Barklage, Western Regional Director, Students for Life of America.
Credit Kelly Moffitt | St. Louis Public Radio
Reagan Barklage, Western Regional Director, Students for Life of America.

Despite this feeling, in a survey released in November of 2016, the non-partisan fact tank Pew Research Center found that 59 percent of U.S. adults say abortion should be legal in all or most cases, compared with 37 percent who say it should be illegal.

Forck and Raymond said that they did not lend credence to the polling, believing that question may have been worded to induce such answers.

Barklage put forth a statistic from the Institute for Pro Life Advancement, a partisan initiative of the Students for Life of America that Barklage is affiliated with, which found 53 percent of millennials believe abortion should be illegal in all or most circumstances.

When asked if such partisan polling could be trusted to find unbiased polling results, Barklage said it went to both public and private universities and did not seek out anti-abortion advocates to poll.

Barklage, who attended both the Women’s March and the March for Life, said there was quite a contrast in the two marches. One of the main principles of the Women’s March included comprehensive reproductive rights.

“At the Women’s March, people were upset regarding the election,” Barklage said. “At the March for Life, people were excited and full of anticipation, looking forward to what is to come. We finally have an ally in the White House who is there to support us.”

Women’s health services, federal funding and Planned Parenthood

To these anti-abortion activists, they believe President Donald Trump will make good on a promise to defund Planned Parenthood, a non-profit organization that provides reproductive health services (including, at some clinics, abortion services) and is often the target of anti-abortion groups because it receives federal funding.

Planned Parenthood received $553 million in government funding in 2014-2015, according to the organization’s Annual Report. Title X does not allow for federal funds to be used on abortions, but Medicaid does allow government money to be spent on them in restricted cases.

Although Trump has spoken in praise of Planned Parenthood in the past, he has also said he would defund Planned Parenthood because he is pro-life. Forck believes he has “had a conversion” and would follow through on his promise to defund. She pointed to his Jan. 23 executive order that blocked foreign aid or federal funding for international NGOs that “provide or promote abortions,” as an example.

Chuck Raymond, a member of the Respect Life Apostolate, St. Louis Archdiocese.
Credit Kelly Moffitt | St. Louis Public Radio
Chuck Raymond, a member of the Respect Life Apostolate, St. Louis Archdiocese.

“Donald Trump is learning,” Raymond said. “He is on a journey, just like all of us are. In the past, he has mentioned some of the good things Planned Parenthood does, and there are some things they do. The fact is, a large chunk of their business is abortions. And, so, that’s the promise he is beginning to fulfill. He is to cut off abortions to women’s care centers that are also aborting babies.”

In fact, abortion services make up only three percent of Planned Parenthood’s total health services. Planned Parenthood serves 2.5 million women and men in the United States annually and about 80 percent of patients receive services to prevent unintended pregnancies. It has 650 affiliate health care centers in the United States, but not all of them perform abortions.

“Planned Parenthood has a choice,” Raymond said. “They can decide they’re not going to do abortions anymore. Then they would be a women’s care center just like thousands of them exist right now. The administration has indicated that funding is not going to go away … it will be redirected to women’s health centers that don’t do abortions.”

Forck hopes that federal funding for Planned Parenthood will be taken away, saying she would prefer women go to places where they can get care and not have to be referred to another doctor/provider. 

Each Planned Parenthood clinic lists the services they provide (you can see what St. Louis clinics are able to provide here), but those broad-ranging services vary by location aside from core reproductive offerings. If a patient comes to Planned Parenthood in need of a service they are not staffed to provide, they are referred to another healthcare provider. 

Although Forck said that doctors who work for Planned Parenthood only provide abortions, doctors at Planned Parenthood provide a variety of services, not just abortions. Nurse practitioners, physicians assistants and other clinicians are employed by Planned Parenthood and do also provide a variety of services. However, according to Missouri law, for a nurse practitioner to practice he or she must be overseen by a physician. 

Barklage said that funding should go to other federally qualified health centers in the U.S. that provide women’s health services but not abortions. According to Kaiser Health Foundation, there are 1,202 federally qualified health centers in the U.S. There are about 4,000 rural health clinics in the U.S.

Although Barklage stated that Planned Parenthood can’t provide prenatal services to women who visit their clinics, Planned Parenthood does offer prenatal services, in some locations, though it makes up a small percentage of their overall services.

When asked if decreasing funding to Planned Parenthood would also hurt poor or marginalized women who may not be able to afford having children, Forck said there were other funding options for Missouri women in those situations.

She specifically mentioned the Alternatives to Abortion program, which has $6 million in funding. In Missouri, the program was established in 2007 by Missouri Statute 188.325 RSMo. Women who are at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level based on client/family income who choose to carry their child to term instead of having an abortion qualify for free services such as prenatal care, mental health care, child care, housing, utilities and job placement (full list here).

Barklage said 79 percent of abortion facilities are within five miles of college campuses. This statistic is based on Students for Life’s research and has not been independently verified.

“Society tells us: ‘you’re not strong enough to be a mother and a student. You’re going to be poor, you’re going to be on food stamps. You’ll have all these complications,’” Barklage said. “Yeah, I’m sure there’s going to be struggles there but we want to help you through that. There’s so many resources that can help you and you are strong enough and we are going to walk beside you.”

When asked if abortion should be considered a political issue instead of merely religious belief, Raymond said that abortion is an issue of science.

“The science is very straightforward,” Raymond said. “It doesn’t have to be political or religious. When a sperm and egg come together, there’s a new baby that has been formed, biologically. That’s just fact. It is easy to discover that. Our mission is to educate there is a unique, separate life that has a heartbeat in 21 days. Our belief is that it is as precious of a life as you, or I or Kathy and it should be protected.”

Related Event

What: Midwest March for Life

When: February 4, 2017

Where: Jefferson City, Missouri

More information.

St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary EdwardsAlex Heuer and Kelly Moffitt give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region. 

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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.