Missouri left with few abortion options


Editor’s note: Due to the current political climate surrounding abortion and out of respect for our sources, The Journal has given a source an alternative name.

On Jan. 30, Missouri state legislature reintroduced a “heartbeat bill” to the docket that would outlaw abortion past six weeks once a fetus’s heartbeat is detectable.

As of Oct. 3, Planned Parenthood St. Louis is the only abortion provider in Missouri. Planned Parenthood in the Central West End still provides abortion services by appointment up to 22 weeks since a woman’s last period.

Julie Setele, assistant professor of sociology and criminology, studied abortion since she was an undergraduate in college. She worked in an abortion clinic herself and provided support and consulting to pregnant women considering their options.

The Planned Parenthood location in the Central West End has heightened security since becoming the last abortion clinic in Missouri.

Setele said the fact Missouri is down to one abortion provider is frightening.  

“I just think about the folks in the middle of the state who are really stuck geographically by Missouri politics,” Setele said. “Most people who have abortions are already parents themselves and so they have to think about childcare, getting time off work, the 72-hour waiting period and other restrictions on abortion. It troubles me.”

Missouri had five abortion clinics in 2008. The Columbia Health Center in Columbia, Missouri was the latest clinic to stop providing abortions. They could not secure admitting privileges at hospitals located within 15 minutes driving time from their health center, as is a requirement under Missouri law.  

According to the Guttmacher Institute, one in four women will get an abortion by the time they are 45 in the U.S. Setele said it is a common medical procedure, but because of the stigma surrounding abortion, few women who experience it feel comfortable talking about it.

Annie, an undergraduate student at Webster, found out she was pregnant on July 6. After she received the news, Annie made the decision to get an abortion through Planned Parenthood. She did not know how far along she was but assumed she was under 10 weeks and thus eligible for the abortion pill as opposed to an in-clinic procedure. 10 weeks is the cut-off for medication abortion.

After waiting a month for her appointment at a Planned Parenthood in Illinois, she learned she was in fact 12 weeks pregnant and therefore no longer eligible for the abortion pill.

She made another appointment a week later with the Planned Parenthood in St. Louis for the surgical procedure.

“So, I basically spent the whole month of July in complete agony because I have this thing growing inside me that I don’t want and I still want to be a mother one day,” Annie said. “So this whole thing was super traumatic for me.”

In Missouri, there is a mandatory 72-hour waiting period between an abortion consultation and the actual procedure. This requires patients seeking an abortion to make two separate appointments that are at least three days apart.

Despite the obstacles she faced, Annie said she considers herself lucky because of the support from her family and her access in St. Louis to Planned Parenthood. However, she said not all women seeking abortion in Missouri have the same access and support as her.

“So many women do it alone,” Annie said. “That sounds like an even worse nightmare to me to do it all alone. You can’t always just go in secret either because some of these women have so far to drive and not everyone has the resources to do that [alone].”

Katharine Parsons, director of the women, gender, and sexuality program at Webster, shared her concerns about the lack of access to legal abortion in Missouri.

“Just having one clinic in Missouri becomes a justice issue,” Parsons said. “Our most vulnerable are those who have the least mobility and money that will have more trouble getting access [to safe abortions and reproductive care].”

Parsons said that if the heartbeat bill passes in Missouri it would effectively make getting an abortion impossible, as most women do not know they’re pregnant at six weeks.

“They’re called ‘heartbeat bills’ but I think ultimately what the purpose of those writing them is to ban abortion,” Setele said. “I think it’s important to be clear about that. That is the intention behind those laws, to ban abortion.”

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