Coronavirus has affected the regular functioning of most systems in the United States, including healthcare. Especially in Missouri, accessing healthcare that is not considered essential has been extremely difficult. The debate around abortion access, a time-sensitive and sometimes life-saving treatment, was accentuated during the pandemic.Some states, such as Mississippi and Alabama, have closed down abortion clinics or restricted hours, failing to acknowledge patients’ abilities to access safe abortions in other states (1). Travelling during a pandemic can increase the risk of contracting or transmitting the virus. While Missouri did not shut down its abortion clinic, the state legislature did try to limit their use. To understand how Missouri handled abortion procedures during the pandemic, it is reasonable to take a look at its political body.
When Donald Trump won the presidency, the anti-abortion platform had the majority in the House, Senate and Executive Branch. In 2018, long-time incumbent United States Senator Claire McCaskill lost to Josh Hawley, who is openly anti-choice. Since his election, he has cosponsored the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion and Abortion Insurance Full Disclosure Act (2), which would enact a permanent, government wide ban on federal funding for abortions. He also publicy stated that Roe v. Wade was “one of the most unjust decisions in US judicial history”, and that abortion is unconstitutional. Within Missouri,there is legislative intent to restrict abortion to the extent that is allowed by Roe v. Wade. Furthermore, there is only one abortion clinic in Missouri, at the Planned Parenthood in St. Louis.
When abortion clinics started to file lawsuits against states asking to open back up full time to meet the demand, Missouri filed briefs to support states that restricted access to abortion clinics. While Planned Parenthood in St. Louis and Hope Clinic in Illinois (even though it is located in Illinois, Hope Clinic is a mere 31 minute drive from the WashU campus) remained open with regular hours, people seeking care were encountered with a different threat to their safety: anti-choice protesters (3).
An abortion clinic escort is responsible for assisting patients and sometimes staff to enter and exit abortion clinics safely. Planned Parenthood in St Louis could not allow clinic escorts to work during the height of the pandemic since escorts have to be in close proximity with multiple people, including the pregnant person, anti-choice protesters, and other escorts. Escorts have to be especially close with the pregnant person as they are trying to walk to the clinic doors, so Planned Parenthood had to halt their important work. While clinic escorts haven’t been reinstated in Missouri, Hope Clinic and Planned Parenthood Fairview Heights in Illinois have resumed this practice to ensure the patients feel safe and welcomed (4).
This doesn’t stop the antichoice protestors from coming to the abortion clinic and crowding the entrance, Anti-choice groups tend to include more than five people. The protestors do not wear masks and try to interfere with the patient’s personal space, creating a substantial health concern for the pregnant person, healthcare professionals inside the clinic, and the protestors themselves(4). I have witnessed firsthand how protestors refuse to wear masks even when others ask. Planned Parenthood St Louis is doing the best it can under these circumstances, but protestors cause a real risk for the health of the patients.
Many states with anti-choice legislators have put restrictions on abortion care during the pandemic, affecting a lot of pregnant people and putting them at risk of of infection. While Missouri was not one of these states, protestors refusing to comply with mask regulations and not standing six ft apart increases the risk of COVID transmission, creating a dangerous environment for pregnant people needing to receive care.
Edited by Haleigh Pine
Illustrated by Noor Ghanam