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Philanthropist gives St. Louis-based Planned Parenthood $9 million, its largest donation ever

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State loses bid to shut down Planned Parenthood facility in St. Louis

A banner hangs on the side of the Planned Parenthood of St. Louis building after a state judge ruled in May 2020 against an attempt by Gov. Mike Parson's administration to shut down the lone abortion clinic in Missouri. (Robert Cohen, rcohen@post-dispatch.com)

ST. LOUIS — Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri has received its largest single donation — $9 million — from author and philanthropist MacKenzie Scott, the abortion and reproductive health care provider announced Wednesday.

The gift to the Planned Parenthood regional affiliate is part of $225 million Scott gave to the Planned Parenthood national office as well 21 other Planned Parenthood affiliates across the country.

The gifts come at a time when efforts to limit abortion access have increased in anticipation of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling this year that could overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark decision in 1973 that legalized abortion.

Missouri and other GOP-led states have laws ready to ban almost all abortions if Roe v. Wade is overturned.

“The fight for our rights and freedoms sit squarely in the states and Ms. Scott’s gift helps keep that work going at one of the most challenging moments in our generation,” said Yamelsie Rodriguez, president of the St. Louis region’s Planned Parenthood.

Last week, Missouri Rep. Mary Elizabeth Coleman, R-Arnold, proposed a bill to make it illegal to “aid or abet” abortions outlawed in Missouri, even if they are performed in other states.

The mounting abortion restrictions in Missouri — including two appointments 72 hours apart and a pelvic exam for medication abortions — have largely ended the medical procedure in the state.

Missouri has just one abortion provider in St. Louis, so many patients seeking the procedure cross state lines to Planned Parenthood’s clinic in Fairview Heights.

Last month, the Missouri Legislature approved a plan that prevented Planned Parenthood from being reimbursed for services covered under the state’s Medicaid program known as MO HealthNet.

The services include birth control, cancer screenings, sexually transmitted testing and treatment and other reproductive care. Abortion is not covered by the program.

That plan has prompted a lawsuit by Planned Parenthood regional affiliates, arguing that it violates federal Medicaid law, which allows patients to choose any provider for family planning care.

Planned Parenthood said its 11 health centers across the state will continue caring for Medicaid patients at no cost for as long as they can.

Rodriguez said the St. Louis regional affiliate is in the process of planning out how to best put the $9 million gift to use.

“The timing of this historic investment will set a foundation for the health care complexities (the affiliate) is working to solve — whether it’s absorbing MO HealthNet patient costs since the Legislature defunded us or navigating patients who are traveling from farther away than ever before,” she said.

A Texas law that went into effect Sept. 1 has sent women needing abortions across state lines, trips that are more difficult for those who can’t miss work, have less money or no child care. The law allows private citizens to sue abortion providers or anyone who helps a woman obtain an abortion.

In the first month, the Planned Parenthood facility in Fairview Heights reported a 47% increase in patients coming from outside its normal service areas — including Louisiana, Arkansas, Kentucky, Tennessee and Kansas — as states struggled to handle the influx of women from Texas.

In late January, the Fairview Heights clinic announced it will create a first-of-its-kind regional logistics center using private money to help pay hotel, child care and travel costs for patients coming to the clinic from other states.

The staff will also help patients connect with community organizations providing similar assistance and resources.

The Planned Parenthood Federation of America estimates that if Roe v. Wade is overturned, some 35,000 more woman each year will turn to Illinois for an abortion, including 14,000 to southern Illinois.

In the past year, the St. Louis region affiliate also launched Missouri’s first transgender care program for patients regardless of their ability to pay. Meanwhile in Texas, the governor and attorney general have interpreted gender-affirming care as child abuse and ordered child protective services to investigate families with trans children.

“In the rapidly changing reproductive health care landscape, our work reaches far beyond the state lines in which we’re located,” Rodriguez said. “Ms. Scott’s gift will have a ripple effect across countless communities in our region, including the seven states from which patients regularly travel.”

After Scott’s divorce from Amazon founder Jeff Bezos in 2019, she pledged to give away much of her wealth. Her portion of the divorce settlement left her with 4% of Amazon shares, which have soared in value.

In her blog post shared Wednesday, Scott listed 465 nonprofit organizations to which she has given nearly $4 billion since June. The gifts include $436 million to Habitat for Humanity International and 84 of its U.S. affiliates; and $281 million to Boys & Girls Clubs across the country, including $5.2 million to the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater St. Louis.

Each “was selected through a rigorous process, and has a strong track record of serving under-supported needs,” Scott wrote.

Her giving team, she shared, has focused on supporting diverse groups of underrepresented people.

“Teachers, administrators, parents, and students. Incarcerated people, crime survivors, police officers, and the family members of them all. Veterans and refugees. Kids enrolled in public schools as well as charters. Rural students as well as urban ones. Affordable housing and job training for people in any geography. Healthcare for people with circumstances and beliefs of every kind,” Scott wrote. “Very few solutions gain universal agreement. I don’t know the best outcome of each debate, but there’s heartening evidence that supporting the capacity of all people to be heard leads to better outcomes for all.”

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