The last abortion center in Missouri won a lengthy courtroom brawl to keep its license even though only a handful of women ended their pregnancies at the facility in the last year. On May 30, the day after the Missouri Administrative Hearing Commission ruled in Planned Parenthood’s favor, Mary Maschmeier with Defenders of the Unborn counted only three cars in the St. Louis facility’s parking lot. She said one of the people at the building was a worker and another was a security guard.
“Business is pretty much nonexistent at this time,” Maschmeier said.
State inspections of the facility in the spring of 2019 found a few instances of failed abortions, so the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services refused to renew its license. Planned Parenthood sued, and the Administrative Hearing Commission ordered the health department to extend the facility’s license into 2021. But in the meantime, the business of abortion mostly migrated out of Missouri. And local pro-life advocates don’t expect it to return anytime soon.
In Illinois—where Gov. J.B. Pritzker, a Democrat, signed a law in 2019 stripping unborn babies of almost all protections—the demand for abortions is booming. Live Action News reported in March that Planned Parenthood workers in St. Louis were referring women seeking abortions to a huge new facility in Fairview Heights, Ill., just across the Mississippi River. In nearby Granite City, Ill., an ironically named abortion center, the Hope Clinic, saw 18 clients the same morning that Maschmeier saw only three cars in the St. Louis Planned Parenthood lot, according to other pro-life advocates she works with. That’s a low number compared to the days before the coronavirus pandemic, when up to 30 women could be in the facility at one time.
But Bridget VanMeans, the head of the pregnancy resource center Thrive St. Louis, said the Illinois facilities were not necessarily taking women who would have otherwise gone to the St. Louis Planned Parenthood. She said the number of abortions in Missouri had already dropped for several years before the Fairview Heights center opened and long before courts got involved with the St Louis facility’s licensure. Planned Parenthood’s “problems are bigger than court problems,” VanMeans said. “They have a problem with their reputation in our city.”
Until the past few years, cars packed the parking lot at the St. Louis Planned Parenthood on an average Saturday. Pro-life advocates praying at the building used to call VanMeans in discouragement at the number of women going into the building for abortions. They also tracked EMT visits to the facility. In a decade, they saw 80 ambulances come and go. Those frequent emergencies and the facility’s resistance to the state’s inspections made Planned Parenthood look bad, said VanMeans, adding, “Women are not stupid. Why would you want a doctor who doesn’t want to be safe?”
VanMeans doesn’t expect the Administrative Hearing Commission’s decision to change much for the St. Louis Planned Parenthood location. She has seen women describe the facility as dreary and call its staff impolite and unhappy. Meanwhile, Thrive established itself as what VanMeans called the “Starbucks of pregnancy centers,” with free services, beautiful buildings, friendly staff, and attractive marketing. She said women will continue to choose Thrive over a Planned Parenthood that sends women away in ambulances: “[Their] model has been upended and the wheels have come off [their] brand here in St. Louis.”