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Friday, September 3, 2021

Texas Effectively Bans Abortion, St. Louis-Area Clinics Spring Into Action

Posted By on Fri, Sep 3, 2021 at 9:01 AM

click to enlarge Planned Parenthood supporters at a rally in April. - DANNY WICENTOWSKI
  • DANNY WICENTOWSKI
  • Planned Parenthood supporters at a rally in April.

Alison Dreith has been preparing for a Doomsday scenario. Not a "stocking a bomb shelter full of soup cans and dry goods" kind of doomsday, but a doomsday scenario for reproductive health care — and it's here.

Dreith, deputy director of Hope Clinic for Women in Granite City, tells the RFT her clinic is ready to care for women as a new scene emerges out of Texas, one of women and those seeking reproductive health care fleeing their state to receive an abortion. In May, Texas successfully passed a strict ban on abortions after the six-week mark of a pregnancy, but it has been tied up in the court system.



Six weeks is just two weeks after a missed period, a time before many women would even know they’re pregnant.

The Texas law also allows citizens to sue anyone who helps someone obtain an abortion for at least $10,000. The ban took place Wednesday at midnight after the Supreme Court, at first, let the law go into effect without a ruling. Then again late Wednesday night, the highest court in the land, dealt a further blow to abortion rights and voted 5-4 to uphold the law.

This isn’t the first time Texas has enacted extreme abortion laws; during the COVID-19 pandemic, the state's governor Greg Abbott used an emergency order to shut down abortion clinics.

“We were seeing patients fly to us from left and right to get the care they needed,” Dreith says of the ban during the COVID-19 shutdowns. “Even though there are many states in between Texas and Illinois, we’re one of the only clinics in between that geographic area that provides up to 24 weeks.”

Doomsday preparations began in 2019 for Dreith’s clinic when Missouri’s lawmakers passed a similar bill to Texas — one that banned abortion after eight weeks, along with criminally charging any doctor who provided an abortion after that mark. Dreith says about 55 percent of Hope Clinic's patients are women from states other than Illinois — 50 percent from Missouri, five percent from other states.

The bill that triggered Hope Clinic’s preparations is still tied up in the court system, an important point to emphasize according to Reproductive Health Services of Planned Parenthood’s St. Louis Region President and CEO Yamelsie Rodríguez.

“RHS in Missouri is currently fighting one of the most extreme abortion bans in the country,” Rodríguez wrote in a statement to the RFT. “The Eighth Circuit is hearing that case in a matter of weeks. Today it’s Texas, tomorrow it could be Missouri.”

Dreith says between Missouri’s bill and six other states that have enacted similar laws, her and other clinics — some near, others nationwide — have undertaken the task of keeping their clinics widely available for those traveling sobering distances to receive the health care they need.

Hope Clinic has ramped up staff and increased the number of physicians from two to four. The clinic was also built to see 10,000 patients and Dreith says they see about half that now, leaving plenty of room for those who need help.

Rodríguez acknowledges the existing barriers in place in Missouri — the one clinic left standing is a Planned Parenthood in the Central West End and patients have a 72-hour mandatory waiting period — and says many patients have had to travel to the Planned Parenthood in Fairview Heights, Illinois for care instead.

She says that’s why RHS and Hope Clinic for Women have invested nearly $10 million in clinical capacity and infrastructure.

"As neighboring states eliminate abortion access, Illinois providers like RHS and Hope Clinic for Women are ready to receive patients no matter their zip code," Rodríguez adds.

Beyond ramping up the clinics in preparation, Rodríguez and Dreith say those who wish to help can donate to abortion funds. Mallory Schwarz, executive director for NARAL Pro-Choice Missouri, also encouraged residents to donate to an abortion fund.

The leaders all emphasize the importance of these funds, saying it’s not just the cost of the abortion in these cases. Expenses include transportation, lodging, food and childcare. The numbers add up, weighing on the patient even further.

Volunteers for the clinic escort program through NARAL Pro-Choice Missouri are also welcome, since the organization provides volunteers for both Hope Clinic and Planned Parenthood. Dreith adds that she couldn’t imagine traveling all the way from Houston and still having to “face the vitriol” that pro-life protestors outside of clinics throw at the patients.

Schwarz says the fight for abortion access is needed now more than ever.

“We need folks to be empowered and motivated to come out and fight with us for these fundamental freedoms to control our bodies and plan our futures on our own terms,” Schwarz says in an interview with the RFT. “We know that we can win if we fight from the ground up.”

To Schwarz, everyone has a role to play in keeping abortion access available to those who need one, no matter their race, ZIP code or other health identity. Donors, advocates and providers are all important, but one of the most important roles anyone can fill, according to Schwarz, is achieved just by being yourself and being transparent.

Sharing your own reproductive health-care story — whether its about abortion or birth control or any kind of support received at a Planned Parenthood or other women's health clinics — is a seemingly small thing, but helps end the stigma, Schwarz explains.

Abortion is common and normal, but stigma “is one of the most insidious barriers to care,” she says. She adds that people have continued unwanted pregnancies out of fear of being judged. Dreith says it’s a shame that “a routine health-care procedure has been so stigmatized in this country” causing patients to travel thousands of miles “to reach the critical care they deserve.”

As long as the fight for abortion access continues, the three leaders will be there, working together to help women not just in their own respective communities, but nationwide. And, as it's expected, when the fight starts again in Missouri, they’re ready to give it all they got — or at least, be there for the women affected by the laws.

“We have the power to change the fate of abortion access in our state, but only if people show up. And only if they act now,” Schwarz says. “We know the majority of Missourians support abortion access without government interference.

“And we need them to join us now before it’s too late.”

Follow Jenna on Twitter at @writesjenna. Email the author at jenna@riverfronttimes.com
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