A new bill introduced at the St. Louis Board of Aldermen would allocate more than $3 million for access to reproductive health care and treatment for COVID-19.
Commission Bill 61 would allocate $1.5 million in US bailout funds to organizations that help increase access to reproductive health care. Another $1.3 million would go to testing, treatment and vaccination for COVID-19.
The bill was introduced just hours after the U.S. Supreme Court voted to strike down Roe vs. Wade Friday. The ruling overshadows most of the little abortion access Missouri had.
The aldermen and community leaders behind the bill want to find a way to make it easier to access reproductive health services.
A total of $1 million of the allocation would support abortion access through grants. Organizations that provide logistical support to people seeking abortion care, such as child care and hotel stays, would apply for the grants through the St. Louis Department of Health. To stay in compliance with state law, the grants would cover only the incidental costs of abortions and not the procedures themselves.
The bill also sets aside an additional $500,000 for infrastructure and operational needs of organizations that provide reproductive health care support services, including access to doulas and lactation support.
The $1.5 million total proposed for reproductive health services is described as the St. Louis Reproduction Fund in the bill. The St. Louis Health Department would receive $250,000 to administer the fund.
If the bill passes, St. Louis would become one of the first U.S. cities to award municipal dollars for abortion support. Austin, Texas and Portland, Oregon have adopted similar measures.
In addition to support for reproductive health care, the bill would allocate $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 severance clause, which means that if one part of the bill is found to be illegal or unconstitutional, other parts of the bill would still take effect.
Board Bill 61 is the result of more than 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 about the barriers residents of St. Louis faced when trying to access reproductive health care in the area during the pandemic, particularly the unique obstacles for citizens of color.
“What we learned is not surprising,” says Schwarz. “The pandemic has exacerbated existing social and economic inequalities. So many people have lost wages, hours and jobs. This has hit black and brown women and pregnant women in our area the hardest. »
This inequity is not new to Missouri, where Black women are four times more likely than white women from pregnancy, according to the state Department of Health and Senior Services. This disparity may increase now that people have no choice but to travel for abortion care.
“We know that states with the most restrictions on access to abortion have the highest rates of maternal mortality and childbirth,” says Schwarz. “Missouri is a classic example.”
According to Schwarz, culturally appropriate pregnancy and childbirth services have been shown to improve birth and postpartum outcomes.
These aids are rarely covered by Medicaid or health insurance. Providers who provide culturally appropriate care are in high demand, although access is limited by cost.
This bill was specifically designed for black and brown citizens, according to Aldermen Christine Ingrassia, co-sponsor of the bill.
“They are the ones who usually don’t have a voice; they might not have the resources someone else needs to hop on a plane and get to Illinois,” she says. “We will make sure to reach out to organizations that are already working on the ground with these communities to make sure they know this funding is available.”
Alderman Annie Rice sponsors Board Bill 61 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 the office of St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones to draft the bill in anticipation of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe, according to Ingrassia.
Asked after Friday’s ruling, Ingrassia said news of the reversal came as a shock, although she and many others were experiencing a post-deer reality was inevitable for Missouri.
“We are simply mobilizing the resources we have as quickly as possible to ensure that our citizens know that we are supporting their reproductive health rights,” Ingrassia says.