St. Louis Bill Would Create Abortion, COVID-19 Services Grant Fund

click to enlarge A new bill introduced to the St. Louis Board of Aldermen would allocate over three million dollars toward reproductive health care access and COVID-19 treatment. - Theo Welling
Theo Welling
A new bill introduced to the St. Louis Board of Aldermen would allocate over three million dollars toward reproductive health care access and COVID-19 treatment.

A new bill introduced to the St. Louis Board of Aldermen would allocate over three million dollars toward reproductive health care access and COVID-19 treatment.

Board Bill 61 would allocate $1.5 million in American Rescue Plan funds to organizations that help increase access to reproductive health care. An additional $1.3 million would go toward COVID-19 testing, treatment and vaccination.

The bill was introduced just hours after the U.S. Supreme Court voted to overturn Roe v. Wade on Friday. The ruling eclipses most of what little abortion access Missouri had.

Aldermen and community leaders behind the bill want to find a way to make reproductive health services easier to access.

A total of $1 million of the allocation would support access to abortion through grants. Organizations that offer logistical support for people seeking abortion care, such as childcare and hotel stays, would apply for the grants through the St. Louis Health Department. To stay in compliance with state law, grants would only cover incidental costs of abortions and not the procedures themselves.

The bill also sets aside an additional $500,000 for infrastructure and operational needs for organizations that provide services to support reproductive health care, including access to doulas and lactation support.

The total $1.5 million proposed for reproductive health services is described as the St. Louis Reproductive Fund in the bill. The St. Louis Health Department would receive $250,000 to manage the fund.

If the bill passes, St. Louis would become one of the first U.S. cities to grant municipal dollars for abortion support. Austin, Texas and Portland, Oregon, have passed similar measures.

In addition to reproductive health care support, the bill would appropriate $1.3 million in ARPA funds to the St. Louis Department of Health to provide testing, treatment and vaccination for COVID-19.

The bill has a severability clause, meaning that if a part of the bill is deemed unlawful or unconstitutional, other portions of the bill would still take effect.

Board Bill 61 is the result of over a year of planning, according to Mallory Schwarz, executive director of Pro-Choice Missouri.

In 2021, Pro-Choice Missouri hosted a series of focus groups to learn what barriers St. Louis residents faced as they attempted to access reproductive health care in the region during the pandemic, particularly barriers unique for citizens of color.

“What we learned is not surprising,” Schwarz says. “The pandemic has exacerbated existing social and economic inequities. So many people have lost wages, hours and jobs. This has fallen the hardest on Black and brown women and pregnant people in our region.”

This inequity is not new to Missouri, where Black women are four times more likely to die than white women as a result of pregnancy, according to the State Department of Health and Senior Services. This disparity may grow now that people have no choice but to travel to receive abortion care.

“We know that states with the most restrictions on access to abortion have the highest rates of maternal and birthing person mortality rates,” Schwarz says. “Missouri is a textbook example of that.”

Culturally competent pregnancy and birth services are proven to improve birth and postpartum outcomes, according to Schwarz.

These supports are rarely covered by Medicaid or health insurance. Providers who supply culturally minded care are in high demand, though access is limited by cost.

This bill was specifically crafted with Black and brown citizens in mind, according to Alderwomen Christine Ingrassia, a co-sponsor of the bill.

“They’re the ones who typically don’t have a voice; they might not have the resources that somebody else has to hop on a plane and travel to Illinois,” she says. "We’ll be making sure we reach out to the organizations that are doing the work on the ground with those communities already to make sure that they know this funding is available.”

Alderwoman Annie Rice sponsors Board Bill 61 along with co-sponsors Ingrassia, Jack Coatar, Anne Schweitzer, Megan Green, Tina “Sweet-T” Pihl and Shameem Clark Hubbard. Rice could not be reached for comment.

Aldermen worked with Pro-Choice Missouri and St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones' office to draft the bill in anticipation of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe, according to Ingrassia.

Interviewed after Friday’s ruling, Ingrassia said news of the overturn came as a shock, though she and many others knew a post-Roe reality was inevitable for Missouri.

“We’re just mobilizing the resources we have as quickly as possible to make sure that our citizens know we support their reproductive health rights,” Ingrassia says.

About The Author

Monica Obradovic

Monica Obradovic is a staff writer for the Riverfront Times.
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