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Fertile Ground 

Planned Parenthood seeks to require Missouri's health-insurance industry to get consistent and provide coverage for birth control

Because most health-insurance companies in Missouri offer coverage for abortions and sterilizations before contraception, Planned Parenthood hopes to require the industry to walk arm-and-arm with reason by mandating coverage for birth control.

The proposal will appear before the state Legislature sometime next year, but as Leah Edelman, director of legislative and public affairs for Planned Parenthood of Greater St. Louis, points out, throwing the insurance industry, the Legislature and common sense into the same mix will likely prove volatile.

"It's actually cost-effective for insurance companies to cover contraceptives because it's less expensive to provide 12 months of pills vs. a pregnancy or abortion," she says, adding that the coverage would include all types of birth control, including pills, diaphragms and injectables.

But the Legislature's anti-abortion majority -- increased by several seats in the November election -- will probably balk at the idea. Paula Gianino, president and CEO of St. Louis' Planned Parenthood, says that the anti-abortion actions of lawmakers in the past several years only serve as a gruesome reminder. Still in the courts, for example, is a law passed last year forbidding the Missouri Department of Health to spend any money for Planned Parenthood services. Approved by the Legislature because Planned Parenthood provides abortions as well as family planning, the bill -- passed into law three years in a row but thrown out by the courts -- has cost Missouri taxpayers well over $1 million in legal fees alone.

Gianino points to a survey conducted by her organization last year that shows that 61 percent of those polled approve of state funding for family-planning services. Seventy-two percent of Missourians, the survey found, think abortion is a choice to be made by the woman, not state lawmakers. And yet lawmakers come up with proposals seemingly incompatible with the statistics. Case in point: a bill proposed last year that would allow pharmacists to refuse filling any prescription by which they might be morally offended.

"When you're in the Capitol all the time, you start to think maybe Missouri is just like this," Gianino says of the Legislature's anti-abortion majority. "But this poll shows otherwise."

The organization's proposed bill concerning health-insurance coverage of contraception is part of Planned Parenthood's new initiative called "Responsible Choices." The plan of action is to make sure that the grassroots efforts of anti-abortion groups are at least matched by those of the pro-choice movement. Planned Parenthood, for example, wants lawmakers to understand that the organization seeks to prevent abortions by making sure birth control is accessible to every woman, regardless of income.

"Responsible Choices" also serves as the theme for Planned Parenthood's annual conference being held this year in St. Louis. Receiving an award will be the Rev. Howard Moody, founder of the Clergy Consultation Service on Abortion, which sponsored the country's first freestanding abortion clinic before the Roe vs. Wade ruling.

Speaking at the conference will be Emily Lyons, one of the seriously injured workers at the Birmingham, Ala., abortion clinic that was bombed in January. The four-day event begins Wednesday, Dec. 2, at the Adam's Mark Hotel downtown. For more information, call Planned Parenthood at 531-7526.

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More by Melinda Roth

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