Hours after Roe v. Wade was overturned by the Supreme Court, Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt certified in a legal opinion that the state’s “trigger law” is now in effect, meaning that abortion procedures are illegal in the state of Missouri.
In St. Louis, hundreds gathered outside of what was until last week the only facility providing abortions in the state: the Planned Parenthood clinic in the Central West End. But beyond the protests come the questions of what the majority of Missourians who support abortion access can do.
On the local level, in St. Louis City and County, leaders are attempting to pass two parallel proposals redirecting small portions of national American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding towards financing travel to states that provide abortions–primarily to the Hope Clinic across the river in Illinois, which was already inundated with Missouri patients before Roe fell. These bills would also help finance childcare for women who need to travel for reproductive care–though it’s not yet clear exactly how those funds would be distributed.
On Monday, Mayor Tishaura Jones announced that Board Bill 61would allocate $1.5 million in American Rescue Plan funds to a Reproductive Equity Fund for nonprofit organizations, which could access the money through grants from the St. Louis Department of Health, which would receive an additional $250,000 to administer grants through the fund.
“We expect to be sued for this,” Jones said. Attorney General Eric Schmitt has stated that he is adamant about enforcing this abortion ban.
“We are working,” Jones added, “To see what is allowable, if this is allowable. This is a time to act, and the people elected a Mayor to act on their behalf.”
According to a statement from Pro-Choice Missouri, this bill would make St. Louis the 5th city in the country to grant or pledge municipal funds for abortion support.
On Wednesday, County Executive Sam Page announced that a similar plan would be voted on in the County Council, which is set to meet in 10 days to decide how they plan to spend their remaining $74 million in ARPA funds. Page said he hopes that $1 million of that number will go to reproductive health services, as well as transportation for those who might seek procedures, such as abortions, that are no longer available in Missouri.
“I’m going to do all I can to help those who are being left behind by this recent court decision,” Page said. “We do not leave our most vulnerable behind in the name of political gain.” He added that he believes this is a legal use of ARPA funds, and emphasized that the money will not be used to directly pay for abortions.
“There is a pathway to use ARPA funds to help women who are trying to make a difficult decision. We will not participate in paying for abortion services…we will follow the state law. But we do believe that ARPA funds can be used to support transportation, or childcare, or other types of activity for women who are making a very difficult decision.”
These bills, if passed, wouldn’t just apply to assistive care for those who need abortions: they would assist people in getting other forms of reproductive care, too. Though all forms of birth control and the morning-after pill are still legal in Missouri, some doctors worry that they may see attempts to criminalize those who treat ectopic pregnancies, which occur when an egg implants in the fallopian tube, generally cannot be carried to term, and endanger the life of the mother. The funds may also be used to help with childcare, and with access to contraceptive options such as the “morning-after pill” and intrauterine devices. At this time, Plan B and all forms of contraception are legal in Missouri.
While the Mayor and the County Executive have thrown their weight behind proposals meant to mitigate the damage wrought by the repeal of Roe, the direct enforcement of the law–or lack thereof–will be left to the offices of Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner and County Prosecutor Wesley Bell, respectively.
Bell signed on to a letter by over 80 prosecutors across the country asserting that they would refuse to prosecute providers of abortion care. And at a press conference Wednesday, he held that his reasoning behind that decision is that abortion is not a public safety concern.
“‘We have limited resources, and prosecutors every day make decisions on how to best utilize those resources,” Bell said. “Our priority is violent and serious offenses, and prosecuting those cases. In a case like this, in a situation like this, with respect to abortion providers…there is no public safety concern. There is no public safety issue. In fact, quite the opposite—this is about protecting our residents. And we will use our discretion accordingly.”
Bell, however, doesn’t have an abortion clinic in his district, so it is unlikely that he will be called upon to prosecute such a case.
Kim Gardner, whose district does house Planned Parenthood, did not sign on to the letter by prosecutors who are refusing to pursue abortion-provider cases.
“The Circuit Attorney remains committed to ensuring the safe delivery of comprehensive reproductive health services in the City of St. Louis,” a representative of Gardner’s office wrote in a June 24 statement.