St. Louis chooses to fund abortions
On July 15, the St. Louis board of aldermen voted to establish a new fund that would help women in the St. Louis area travel to neighboring states to obtain abortions. The new Reproductive Equity Fund was funneled into a vote distributing money from the American Rescue Plan, which was provided to St. Louis as a way to help the city bounce back from the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead of focusing on that goal, the aldermen have elected to make a political statement that will ultimately be struck down as illegal and delay funding for many other needed resources in the process.
The Reproductive Equity Fund was appropriated $1 million from the $500 million American Rescue Plan pool. Skirting the debate on the question of abortion itself, the board is attempting to circumvent Missouri law, which states that the government cannot use public funds to perform or assist abortions, is just wrong. Missouri attorney general Eric Schmitt has already signaled his intention to sue the city.
The argument made by the bill's sponsor, Annie Rice (D), appears rooted in a fundamental misunderstanding of the law. Rice contends that the Missouri law that bars funding of abortions only applies to money from the state government and therefore cannot disallow money provided by the federal government. However, the Hyde Amendment prohibits using federal dollars to fund abortions.
Citizens of St. Louis have many pressing concerns that must be addressed. Instead of jumping on the political third rail that is the abortion debate, the aldermen should instead focus on areas where there is little controversy and disagreement to be found. For example, in 2020, St. Louis had the highest murder rate it has seen in the last fifty years. There has been a national uptick in crime the last two years, and the St. Louis city police force is not equipped to handle it. The department is currently 150 officers short of full staffing. Officers leave the city force for higher-paying jobs in the county and other departments. There has been little effort made by the city to fix this mass exodus. The feeling among the public is that crime is nowhere close to being controlled. Meanwhile, in the St. Louis budget for 2023, all city employees get a 3% raise, while the budget for the police force is being cut by $7 million.
As of April, only half of St. Louis's EMS paramedic positions were filled. The St. Louis EMS vehicle fleet is outdated and in desperate need of replacement. Between the staffing issues and vehicle maintenance, it is normal for only 10 out of the 12 ambulances in the city to be running calls on any given day. In a 12-hour shift, the average paramedic can expect to run 12–15 calls. Despite these valiant efforts, a report commissioned by the city back in 2014 recommended that to safely meet the needs of the population, St. Louis should operate 18 ambulances every day. Calling 911 for an emergency should be met with an operator on the other end of the line immediately, and an ambulance dispatched in a timely manner. As it stands now, that phone will ring for too long, the caller will be put on hold, and that ambulance might not arrive for up to 40 minutes.
The city of St. Louis operates 48 trash routes that are supposed to be collected daily. This year, there have been many days when fewer than 30 of those routes were picked up. The daily average for the number of routes run has steadily climbed back up to 35, but it is still far short of what residents of St. Louis need. Trash overflowing from dumpsters is now commonplace.
The board of aldermen could choose to tackle any of these problems if they wished. The money from the American Rescue Plan is available, and cities have been given extensive leeway on how to allocate it. Focusing on divisive issues such as abortion access, which will only result in litigation and public ire is a mistake. It is time for the board of aldermen to cease the political theater and work on priorities that the St. Louis residents demand be addressed.
Tyler C. Chrestman is the host of The Chrestman Conversation podcast and blog.