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Aldermanic panel OKs $1 million plan to help St. Louis women get out-of-state abortions

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St. Louis City Hall

St. Louis City Hall

ST. LOUIS — An aldermanic committee on Tuesday advanced a bill to spend $1 million to help St. Louis women get abortions in Illinois, four days after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling activated Missouri’s ban on the practice.

“We are living in incredibly troubling times and the ability to fight back at the local level is more important now than ever,” Health and Human Services Committee chairwoman Christine Ingrassia, 6th Ward, said before the panel’s 6-0 vote.

The measure, which now goes to the full Board of Aldermen, would allocate federal funds through the American Rescue Plan Act for transportation, child care and “other logistical support needs” to provide access to abortion.

Revised wording specifies that the grants wouldn’t be used “to fund or assist abortion procedures” or to “encourage or counsel” someone to have an abortion.

The $1 million would go to a new Reproductive Equity Fund in the city Health Department. The sponsor — Alderman Annie Rice, 8th Ward — has said she expected most women assisted by the program would go to abortion facilities in the Metro East area.

“I’m excited we have this opportunity to do something,” Rice said Tuesday. “A feeling of hopelessness was easy to feel Friday morning” when the high court ruling was issued.

The bill also allocates $500,000 in ARPA money to the new fund for other reproductive health services such as access to doulas and lactation support and $250,000 for administrative oversight and evaluation.

The bill is in a position to be voted on by the board before it begins its summer break on July 15. But the director of Campaign Life Missouri, an anti-abortion group, says the measure will be challenged in court. He contends that the measure would violate a state law barring the use of public funds on assisting abortion.

Two representatives of Pro-Choice Missouri spoke in support of the bill Tuesday at the videoconference meeting. One of them, the Rev. Love Holt, said the measure addresses a “concurrent crisis of maternal mortality and abortion access” by creating a municipal funding stream “to support all pregnancy outcomes.”

LaKisha Redditt, who chairs the St. Louis Doula Project, also spoke in favor.

David Drury, president of Missouri Lawyers for Life, watched the meeting but didn’t speak. In a telephone interview, he said, “I don’t think COVID funds were ever intended to finance the taking of innocent human life directly or indirectly.”

He added that “it’s a shame that the city would inject itself into the abortion arena” when it faces so many challenges such as crime and trash collection.

The bill also would channel $1.64 million in additional ARPA spending for COVID testing, treatment and vaccination. The panel on Tuesday added $500,000 for another round of $100 gift cards to be used as an incentive to get people to get COVID shots.

The committee also sent to the full board a separate bill channeling $10 million to expand the city’s violence prevention programs to more neighborhoods and $3.6 million for additional summer and year-round youth programs.

Posted at 5:35 p.m. Tuesday, June 28.

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