St. Louis has joined the growing list of Democrat-led cities seeking to help women gain abortion access, even in red states that have largely banned the procedure.
Not long after Democratic Mayor Tishaura Jones on Thursday signed a measure providing $1 million for travel to abortion clinics in other states, Republican Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt sued to stop what he called a “blatantly illegal move to spend Missourians’ hard-earned tax dollars on out-of-state abortions.”
The give-and-take is emblematic of city versus state battles playing out across the U.S. since June, when the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade prompted several states, including Missouri, to ban most abortion procedures. The Missouri law prohibits abortions except in a medical emergency.
Democrat-led local government leaders in otherwise conservative states have fought back.
Like St. Louis, the city of Cleveland plans to help with logistics costs. Mayor Justin Bibb announced this week that he’s working with the City Council on legislation to create a $100,000 “Reproductive Freedom Fund” to help pay for travel and lodging for Cleveland residents and city employees seeking a legal abortion in another state.
In Ohio’s capital on Friday, Columbus City Council members announced proposals including a $1 million “Education and Access Fund” to help cover costs for abortion access for city residents, including transportation, child care and lost wages, and to “bolster community education regarding safe and legal reproductive health care choices.” They plan to vote on the measure Monday.
Days after the Supreme Court decision, Cincinnati Mayor Aftab Pureval said the city would provide travel reimbursement for city employees who have to leave Ohio for abortions. The City Council in Kansas City, Missouri, approved a similar plan, also in June. Schmitt has threatened to sue Kansas City, too.
City councils in places such as Austin, Texas, and Nashville have passed measures urging law enforcement not to prioritize abortion ban enforcement, and other cities are weighing similar proposals.
In Louisiana, members of the State Bond Commission voted this week to withhold a $39 million non-cash line of credit for the New Orleans Sewerage and Water Board power plant project as a way to “send a message” to city leaders who said they would not enforce the statewide abortion ban.
Attorney General Jeff Landry had urged denial of the financing and said in a written statement that the commission “forced elected officials in New Orleans to decide if they will enforce State law.”
The St. Louis law calls for using federal COVID-19 relief money for a “Reproductive Equity Fund.” The funding is part of a larger health care package that also offers postpartum support, lactation help, doula assistance and money for COVID-19 testing and vaccine incentives.
Jones said during a news conference prior to signing the bill that she expected a lawsuit from Schmitt, who is seeking the GOP nomination for U.S. Senate in the Aug. 2 primary, and who has filed dozens of lawsuits ranging from efforts to halt mask mandates in schools to a suit against China over the coronavirus.
“I will not back down when our opponents threaten, bully or demean our city, especially the attorney general, who’s more concerned about chasing clout than care,” Jones said.
Schmitt said in a news release that the St. Louis measure violates the state law that makes it “unlawful for any public funds to be expended for the purpose of performing or assisting an abortion, not necessary to save the life of the mother, or for the purpose of encouraging or counseling a woman to have an abortion not necessary to save her life.”
Missouri had just one abortion clinic at the time of the ban, a Planned Parenthood facility in St. Louis. Two abortion clinics operate in the Illinois suburbs of St. Louis, and two clinics operate in Overland Park, Kansas, a Kansas City suburb.
Associated Press writers Kantele Franko in Columbus, Ohio, and Geoff Mulvihill in Philadelphia contributed to this report.