- Yamelsie Rodríguezpresident and CEO of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri.
We look at how reproductive health clinics are reacting to the overturning of Roe v. Wade last week. In at least 13 states, including Missouri, trigger laws that criminalize abortions are either already in effect or expected to soon kick in. Clinics have mobilized to center patient care by moving or referring them to safer states. We speak to Yamelsie Rodríguez, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri. Following abortion bans in neighboring states, Planned Parenthood opened a clinic about 15 minutes away in Fairview Heights, Illinois, which has the capacity to serve up to 15,000 abortion-seeking patients a year. She says the clinic has seen a rapid increase in “patients that were traveling from out of state having to flee draconian restrictions and laws in their home state to access basic, fundamental, essential care,” says Rodríguez.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman.
We look now at how reproductive health clinics are responding to the Supreme Court’s overturning Roe — that’s right, the constitutional right to an abortion. At least 13 states have near or total abortion ban trigger laws that could go into effect within 30 days. Just minutes after the Supreme Court decision came down, Missouri’s Attorney General Eric Schmitt announced on social media the state’s trigger law is now in effect.
ATTORNEY GENERAL ERIC SCHMITT: Here in Missouri, the people’s voice has already made clear that Missourians respect the sanctity of human life. We believe that without the explicit protection of the right to life, all liberties are under attack, which is why the importance of this day cannot be overstated. I am humbled to be a part of this and the first attorney general in the country to effectively end abortion. As a long champion for the rights of the unborn and Missouri families, I pledge to continue to fight for our most fundamental right, the right to life.
AMY GOODMAN: Missouri has for years been one of the most restrictive places to access an abortion, had one remaining clinic in the entire state, Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri, which shut down Friday after the state’s abortion ban, the trigger law, went into effect.
But abortion rights advocates and providers in Missouri have been preparing for the reversal of Roe. And in 2019, Planned Parenthood secretly built an abortion clinic in Fairview Heights, Illinois, across the Missouri state line, 15 minutes from St. Louis. The clinic will now provide abortion reproductive healthcare to the growing number of people in Missouri and other states in the Midwest where abortion is [banned].
For more, we’re joined by Yamelsie Rodríguez, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri, who oversaw the stealth opening of the Illinois clinic.
Welcome to Democracy Now!, Yamelsie. First, respond to what happened on Friday, the overturning of Roe, and then immediately the attorney general of your state saying that Missouri would be the first state to enact its trigger law to ban abortion totally.
YAMELSIE RODRÍGUEZ: Thank you for having me. And I want to start by saying that today and all the days that led to the overturning of Roe should be such a stain in our history, from which we’re learning, and we must do better.
Actually, when the decision came down last Friday, I was with Representative Cori Bush and U.S. secretary of health and human services, Secretary Xavier Becerra, at the last abortion clinic in Missouri, holding a roundtable to discuss the dire abortion crisis in the state and discussing what abortion providers on the ground needed as we were bracing for impact. So, what we have been preparing for a really long time, particularly those of us that work on red states, for the end of Roe, the decision was sobering, and it didn’t make it hurt any less. But we have been preparing for this moment, and we knew that Attorney General Eric Schmitt was going to put the trigger ban in effect immediately. The decision came in close to 9 a.m., and by 9:22 that morning, abortion was effectively banned in the state of Missouri.
And we do what we have always done: We put patients first. And we immediately notified the state of the fact that we were ceasing abortion services that day. And we moved forward to ensure we were doubling down on our capacity and moving the patients that needed access to abortion care from Missouri to the health center that you just talked about, that is just 13 miles from our health center in St. Louis. It’s just across the river in Fairview Heights, Illinois.
AMY GOODMAN: Now, did you completely close the St. Louis clinic, the Missouri clinic? Because abortion is only a tiny part of what is done there, isn’t that right?
YAMELSIE RODRÍGUEZ: Abortion is one of the services that Planned Parenthood provided there for, you know, almost 50 years, and we did it proudly and unapologetically. But I want to be clear with Missourians that our doors are still open, and that health center will remain open, as you just said, because we provide an entire suite of sexual and reproductive health services, that include SDI testing and treatment, birth control, transgender care services and many, many other services as one of the safety net providers in the state of Missouri. And we know that that network is already frail, and we are going to do everything we can to continue to meet the needs of people that need reproductive services in Missouri, and work to navigate those patients who are in need for abortion care to our health center across the river in Illinois.
AMY GOODMAN: How did you pull off building this, really, stealth clinic, that will serve how many thousands of people?
YAMELSIE RODRÍGUEZ: We started being really strategic after we saw the writing on the wall in 2019. We were fighting to keep our abortion license at the last abortion clinic in the state of Missouri. And it was at that point that we made the very intentional decision that we were going to continue to center patients, and we needed to find a solution, long-term, because we knew that the state of Missouri was hell-bent in eliminating access to abortion, without even having to overturn Roe. So we built an 18,000-square-foot facility in Fairview Heights.
And when we opened that health center, we thought that this was going to be a safe haven and an oasis for reproductive healthcare for people who needed abortions from Missouri, but immediately after the Texas implementation of the six-week abortion ban, that facility saw an increase of over 121% in the number of patients that were traveling from out of state having to flee draconian restrictions and laws in their home state to access basic, fundamental, essential care. And now the projections are that in a post-Roe reality that we’re living today, that facility is expected to see an additional 14,000 patients from the Midwest and in the South, and that is on top of about the 18,000 patients that come to our facility currently for abortion care.
AMY GOODMAN: You’re calling on the Biden administration to declare a public health emergency? What would that do?
YAMELSIE RODRÍGUEZ: We are absolutely trying to ensure that the patients that are in need of access to abortion have the resources and the tools to do that. And one of the things that we know that the Biden administration can do is declare a public health emergency in order to free up funding for abortion providers to increase capacity and, in addition to that, then have the resources for patients and their support in navigation for travel, accommodations, child care and all of the challenges that everyday life poses for those that are going to be most affected by the overturning of Roe. And we know those are low-income people, people of color, specifically Black and Brown communities, and, of course, young people.
AMY GOODMAN: What about the overturning of the Hyde Amendment? And explain what it is and how it affects people.
YAMELSIE RODRÍGUEZ: Well, the Hyde Amendment is one of those racist and discriminatory policies that had been in place which prevent individuals from using their Medicaid insurance to cover for the cost of abortions. There are states, like the state of Illinois, that has made a decision to allow and cover the cost via state funding for patients who are and rely on Medicaid to get abortions, and that is also one of those tools that can be expanded to ensure that people who are in most need and are most marginalized and oppressed — again, because of discriminatory policies — can seek the care that they need.
AMY GOODMAN: And finally, Yamelsie Rodríguez, in your Missouri clinic, that remains open for other services, if someone asks you, “I want to have an abortion. Where can I go?” is your clinic, is your staff, your doctors, your nurses allowed to say, “Well, there’s the clinic 10 minutes away, 15 minutes away, in Illinois”?
YAMELSIE RODRÍGUEZ: We follow all federal, local and state policies. I just want people to know that we are here for you. We are not going anywhere. And there’s many, many tools that you can utilize online in order to find the nearest abortion health center near you, like AbortionFinder.org. You can also call our health center in Fairview Heights, Illinois, and we have opened there a Regional Logistics Center, so when you call that number, we’re not only going to book you an appointment, but we’re going to screen and connect you with all of the practical support, resources that you need. We can assist with our partnership with other abortion funds. We can provide financial assistance. We can provide transportation, accommodations, stipends for gas — whatever you need to ensure that any person around the country who is now in a position of having to flee their home state for abortion care can get the care with the dignity and respect that every person deserves, no matter who you are, where you live or how much money you make.
AMY GOODMAN: Yamelsie Rodríguez, I want to thank you for being with us, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri.