ST. LOUIS, Mo. – The Planned Parenthood provider for the St. Louis region and Southwest Missouri has announced that they are expanding reproductive healthcare and abortion access in the state.
It’s been 100 days since the Supreme Court overturned Roe V. wade and abortion became illegal in Missouri.
“Patients coming to our Fairview Heights health center from outside Missouri and Illinois have increased by more than 340%,”said Yamelsie Rodriguez, president of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri.
The health center is located 20 miles from the Illinois-Missouri border and recently has seen a 30 percent increase in abortion patients. Rodriguez said the wait time for the location in Illinois has increased from four days to two and a half weeks, which is why the provider is going mobile.
“We purchased a 37-foot RV that has been retrofitted to create a patient experience similar to what one would experience when they are coming for medicated abortion at one of our health centers,” Rodriguez said.
The unit will have a waiting room, a standard lab and two exam rooms. Although the RV will operate in Illinois, it will travel closer to the bordering states where abortion is not allowed, like Missouri and Kansas. At first, only medication abortion will be offered.
“We do have plans in likely the first quarter of the next calendar year to think about how we can expand to first trimester procedural abortion,” said Dr. Colleen McNicholas, chief medical officer for Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri. “The mobile abortion clinic is a way to reduce travel times and distances in order to meet patients at the Illinois border.”
A second initiative the health care organization announced Monday is opening its first rural health care center in Rolla.
“We’ve already seen vasectomy appointments double across the state [Missouri] and in southern Illinois,” McNicholas said. “The Rolla health care center will bring vasectomy services and other health care for men too which we know makes up more than three quarters of the population at the nearly university, Missouri Science and Technology.”
According to Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri, vasectomy patients have increased by more than 240% compared to this same time last year.
The Rolla facility will be a Title X health center. Rodriguez said this means more people with low incomes can access reproductive health care.
“With an abortion ban in Missouri, access to affordable birth control, emergency contraception and other preventive care is more important than ever,” Rodriguez said.
The new Planned Parenthood location is the former Tri-Rivers Family Planning facility that closed its doors on Friday. Before closing, the health care center provided pregnancy tests and other reproductive health services.
McNicholas said the organization will spend the next month in the facility making modifications. Most of the staff from the Tri-Rivers Family Planning center will be staying on after the transition. The goal is to make appointments available Nov. 1.
Republican Rep. Mary Elizabeth Coleman from Arnold co-sponsored the 2019 trigger ban legislation that allowed the state to ban abortion after Roe V. Wade was overturned by a proclamation. Attorney General Eric Schmitt made abortion illegal within minutes of the Supreme Court announcing its decision. Under the law, abortion is only allowed for medical emergency and does not allow exemptions for rape or incest survivors.
“This is a desperate move from those that profit from women in crisis,” Coleman said in a statement Monday. “I want every woman in Missouri who is considering abortion to know that Missouri stands ready to help her and her baby.”
Last year, Coleman proposed to make it illegal to help a Missourian get an abortion, even if it’s in a different state. She is now running for state Senate to replace Sen. Paul Wieland, R-Imperial. Coleman said Monday she is still evaluating what bills she plans to file next session is elected.
Rodriguez and McNicholas said they are prepared for lawmakers to go after women’s reproductive health rights in the future and are “doubling down on our efforts to ensure health care remains available.”
“We are preparing for another legislative session where we will see continued attacks to reproductive freedom and birth control,” Rodriguez said.
Planned Parenthood said the mobile unit will be delivered to them by the end of the month and they hope to have it up and running by the end of the year. Rodriguez and McNicholas said the team is still figuring out the best routes for the RV.
“Over the next couple of months, we’re going to be looking at patient travel to determine the route throughout the southern Illinois border,” Rodriguez said.
The reproductive health care organization said it did not know how much the mobile clinic would cost, but that it would be “entirely supported by philanthropy.”
Before Rolla, there are 11 Planned Parenthood locations in Missouri, with five locations in St. Louis, three in the Kansas City area, and one in Joplin, Springfield and Columbia.
Over the summer, health care professionals questioned if the state’s new law ban contraceptives and what the definition of a medical emergency is under state statute. The law defines a medical emergency as: “A condition which, based on reasonable medical judgment, so complicates the medical condition of a pregnant woman as to necessitate the immediate abortion of her pregnancy to avert the death of the pregnant woman or for which a delay will create a serious risk of substantial and irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function of the pregnant woman.”
Parson said in July, all forms of contraceptives are still legal in Missouri.
“There are no changes,” Parson said on July 1. “Everything that was legal before that decision is legal today. There have been absolutely no changes whatsoever on contraceptives.”
In Missouri, if a doctor performs an abortion outside a medical emergency, he or she can lose their license and face up to 15 years in prison.