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'Our doors are open': Planned Parenthood reassures patients its available services in the midst of anti-abortion bills

An amendment in Missouri would allow lawsuits against anyone helping women cross state lines to access abortion services.

ST. LOUIS — A new amendment in Missouri is trying to stop women from crossing state lines to gain access to abortion services. Another bill would make it a crime to do the procedure.

State Rep. Mary Elizabeth Coleman, a Republican from Arnold, aims to attach her amendment to a bill for it to become law.

It would allow lawsuits against anyone helping women cross state lines. 

Bonyen Lee-Gilmore, the vice president of strategy and communications for Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri, said there's been a 52% increase in patients traveling from outside the organization's service area since a bill signed into law in Texas placed a near-total ban on abortion by barring the medical procedure once fetal cardiac activity is detected.

The movement to go to the Illinois facility, though, started back in 2019, when Planned Parenthood opened its Illinois mega clinic in Fairview Heights.

It was also a time when more restrictions came into place in Missouri. Many patients were fleeing, as they had to do a mandatory 72-hour waiting period and a pelvic exam.

That same year, a ban passed on procedures starting at eight weeks of pregnancy, but it was blocked. A federal court will now decide its fate.

This means reproductive health care services can continue. 

"Over 10,000 Missourians that have received abortions since the mega clinic opened across the river," Coleman said. She wants to stop it from happening.

"It means that a person in the state could sue because somebody has helped violate those laws and get around the protections that we have for the unborn. The people who would be liable would be like the hotline call director (and) the person who makes the advertisement for it—people profiting off of those abortions," Coleman said.

"When women are calling Planned Parenthood of St Louis, they're almost always being scheduled for and referred for abortions at that Illinois mega clinic just across the river."

Coleman said she's trying to protect women.

"It's not about punishing the woman. It's about protecting the unborn. Rather than telling a woman she has to end her pregnancy, offer her the resources and the support so that she's able to do it. That's really where my passion comes from."

Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri also wants to protect women by giving them access to reproductive health care services.

The other piece of legislation is House Bill 2810 sponsored by Republican State Rep. Brian Seitz of Branson.

Performing an abortion before 10 weeks of pregnancy could become a Class A felony. The bill includes ectopic pregnancies, which occur when the egg is implanted outside of the uterus. This can be harmful and life-threatening for mothers.

Lee-Gilmore believes these bills are meant to intimidate.

"Abortion is health care, and we will not back down from these intimidation tactics. We will always help patients navigate their way to care," she added.

As Missouri waits, Planned Parenthood continues to serve.

"We cannot repeat it enough that our doors are open," Lee-Gilmore said.

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