NewsNational PoliticsThe Race


Changing abortion laws impact women’s reproductive health access

Posted at 3:21 PM, Dec 06, 2019

Hannah is Robin Utz’s miracle child.

Utz tried to get pregnant for six years. Just a couple years ago, she was pregnant with another child when she found out something was wrong.

“Without a placenta to support her, she’ll have no lungs and the minute she was born it would be into a life of agony and death,” Utz, a St. Louis native, said. So she had to make a difficult decision -- whether or not to end a wanted pregnancy at 21 weeks.

“We had to get the abortion scheduled as soon as possible because of Missouri state laws,” she said.

Missouri is a state where lawmakers are trying to ban abortions after eight weeks. Currently, it’s 21 weeks and six days. While those shorter bans were temporarily blocked by a judge, the changing laws are having an impact on reproductive health access for women.

In 2019, nine states passed restrictions on abortion that would challenge the rights established in Roe v. Wade, a landmark court case stating that women have a right to an abortion without excessive regulation by the government. Subsequent rulings have stated that the government may regulate abortions at t

For Missouri, the city of St. Louis is ground zero because it’s home to the last facility in the state to offer abortions.

“There’s only one abortion provider in the state of Missouri right now, which is Planned Parenthood in St. Louis,” Utz said.

“Only one of our facilities here provides abortion care and the remainder provide that entire other spectrum of care that we think about reproductive healthcare including,” Doctor Colleen McNicholas, Chief Medical Officer for Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis region, said.

This includes things like annual exams, tests for sexually transmitted infections, and cancer screenings.

“Any time there is sort of an uptick in regulation or new abortion laws, folks in the community are confused about whether or not they can access all of those other things,” Dr. McNicholas said.

“I have known people who don’t have health insurance,” Shelby Morgan, a college student in Missouri, said. “So they have to really struggle to find a place they can go get care and the wait lists for that are so long.”

So Planned Parenthood does community outreach to help. On this specific night, volunteers were packing safe sex kits to pass out to people.

“We have a very high STD rate right now so we want to do preventative work,” Bobbi Holder, a staff member at Planned Parenthood, said.

State tax credit-funded pregnancy resource centers are taking a different approach to reproductive health. You can find them just outside the gates of Planned Parenthood and down the street in their own building.

“The mission statement is ending abortion in St. Louis, peacefully and prayerfully,” Brian Westbrook, the Executive Director of the Coalition for Life St. Louis, said. “We want to continue to provide resources and assistance for those women who find themselves in difficult circumstances.”

They do this by providing pregnancy tests and referrals.

“We have sidewalk counseling in front of the abortion facility and we additionally have a pregnant center as well, serving those women we meet in front of the abortion clinic,” Westbrook added.

This time of year, they have volunteers wrap presents for women their resource center helps.

“Often they don’t think there’s many options that they have,” Rich Keys, Coalition for Life Volunteer Rich Keys said. “Helping women to keep their babies who may not have the resources to do that.”

Utz said even given the horrible decision she had to make, she feels lucky to have been given the access to make a choice.”

“Just because of my socioeconomic status and my privilege I was able to give my daughter a peaceful passing,” she said.