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April 28, 2011 | 12:00 a.m. CST
On North Providence Road stands a sand-colored, one-story building facing the street — one of two abortion providers in Missouri. In the dimly lit lobby, patients and sometimes their loved ones sit in black plastic chairs arranged in a few rows in front of the receptionist’s desk. The red-haired receptionist greets patients, manages files and monitors a camera view of the parking lot behind a thick, clear divider.
On the other side of the street, a short distance north of Planned Parenthood, is My Life Clinic. A sign on the street advertises the clinic, but the one-story dark brown brick building, which is not visible to drivers, is a few feet further east of the street. Pale yellow padded chairs sit in the brightly lit lobby, and a wicker basket, situated just below the receptionist’s desk, holds toys for visiting children. Christian music plays from behind the desk. At this clinic, there is no need for a partition.
The most notable difference between these two clinics for women is that one provides abortions and one doesn’t. The clinics, located so close to each other, represent two ends of a tug-of-war rope on the issue of abortion.
A blue plastic swing hangs from thin, frayed ropes tied to the tree in front of Nicole Shields’ humble one-story home. Inside, her 4-year-old son, Drevyn Seamon, sprints from the living room to the kitchen and back again. His small feet pound on the creaky hardwood floor. He wants to show his 21-year-old mother how fast he can run. He climbs onto the sofa and jumps off as high as he can. “You’re going to hurt yourself,” Shields says.
When Shields was a 16-year-old junior at Rock Bridge High School, she discovered she was pregnant. Although she was taking birth control, her doctor had altered her dosage. For months, no one but her parents, her then boyfriend and current fiance, David Seamon, and his parents knew. Soon after she found out, she went to Planned Parenthood for an ultrasound, but she says she was told she couldn’t have an ultrasound unless she signed papers to have an abortion.
She still wasn’t sure what she wanted when at six weeks along, she went to the Advanced Radiology clinic near Boone Clinic and heard her fetus’ heartbeat for the first time. That’s when she decided to have her baby.
“The choice is harder because you want whatever happens to be instantly solved,” she says. Now Shields speaks to My Life Clinic’s patients and donors about her experiences as a client there. Last year, she spoke at the yearly banquet to help raise money for the donor-funded nonprofit.
Life Network Executive Director Carla Arinder says the clinic offers services including pregnancy testing and limited ultrasounds. It also offers support for expectant mothers, educational classes and a Christian-based abortion recovery group called Save One.
“We are usually the first medical service the client gets,” Arinder says. “When they leave, we want them to leave with hope.”
Typically a patient at the clinic receives a medical consultation, including an ultrasound if she is still within the first trimester or early second trimester, and a referral to one of the local doctors the clinic is partnered with if necessary. Last year, the clinic consulted with about 1,500 women. My Life’s information packet reads, “95 percent Chose an Alternative to Abortion in 2010!”
The clinic does not give referrals to patients seeking abortion.
Shields says she’s in the middle regarding her stance on abortion. Deciding to have her baby was not an easy decision, but she says she doesn’t judge women who choose abortion.
“I understand where they’re at and how hard that choice is,” Shields says.
Shields says that for her, it seemed too easy to get an abortion. When she went to Planned Parenthood, she says the abortion process seemed rushed to her.
On the other hand, 48-year-old Emily Myers* experienced roadblocks to abortion when she was 19 years old and lived in a small town in Michigan.
Now an adjunct professor at a St. Louis community college, Myers lives in a creaky one-story house. Each room is painted a different color such as pale pink or green. Her wide kitchen table is covered with a red- and white-patterned tablecloth, and she sits in the chair at the head of the table. Her energetic black and white dog periodically comes to her side and hopes to receive some attention.
Her life is in stark contrast with Shields’, but they both shared the same experience at a young age. When Myers was 19, she gave birth to a baby boy and opted for adoption. And when she was a 35-year-old Ph.D student at MU, she had an abortion.
As a teenager in rural Michigan, Myers was reluctant to get birth control. She says most of her friends obtained contraceptives from the health department, and her mother worked closely with it as a social worker. She didn’t feel comfortable getting birth control because she didn’t want her mother to know she was sexually active.
When Myers realized she was pregnant at 19, her first thought was abortion. But she didn’t know how to get to a clinic, and after talking with friends, she decided to carry the pregnancy to term.
“I really feel like if I had been in a different social context at the time, I might have chosen abortion,” Myers says. “Because it was such a rural area, I don’t think I even knew about Planned Parenthood at the time. I didn’t even know how to go about getting an abortion or where to go.”
Myers says the lack of access to abortion in the town she grew up in mimics the lack of access in rural Missouri towns.
Michelle Trupiano, lobbyist for Planned Parenthood of Kansas and mid-Missouri, says that for women living in rural mid-Missouri, access means taking off work, finding childcare if necessary, finding a place to stay and worrying about costs in order to travel to Columbia, St. Louis, Kansas City, Kan., or elsewhere to receive an abortion.
In August, Missouri Senate Bill 793, which requires women seeking abortions to meet with their provider 24 hours prior to a procedure, took effect. Abortion providers must tell the woman the gestational age of the fetus and give the opportunity to view an ultrasound and hear the heartbeat.
“Opponents to abortion use the legislature to create laws to create so many hoops for providers to have to jump through,” Trupiano says. “All the standards that they are putting out there are way above and beyond anything any other doctor has to meet. It’s hard to find providers who want to jump through those hoops.” Trupiano says Planned Parenthood hasn’t been able to see the full effect the bill will have on the number of abortions provided.
Because Columbia has the only clinic in mid-Missouri that provides abortions, women who live in rural areas have to travel an average of 100 miles for abortion procedures. Columbia’s Planned Parenthood, which provides about 700 abortions per year, provides abortions only on Thursdays.
According to Pamela Sumners, National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League Pro-Choice Missouri executive director, Missouri’s abortion laws make it the third most restrictive state for abortion access.
“Ninety-six percent of Missouri counties do not have an abortion clinic, which is a statistic that is almost identical to Mississippi,” Sumners says. “It has been a consequence of a concerted campaign by right-to-life sort of people to pass law after law after law that, while not technically overturning Roe v. Wade, make Roe v. Wade an almost meaningless right.”
Sumners says women from rural areas, women of color and teenagers are most disadvantaged by Missouri’s stringent restrictions.
When Myers realized she was pregnant again at 35, she acted quickly. She and her boyfriend traveled to the Planned Parenthood in St. Louis when she was about five weeks along. Myers was fortunate enough that she could take time off work and was able to afford travel and abortion costs. When they pulled up to the Planned Parenthood, protesters immediately swarmed their car and handed her partner what she describes as graphic literature through the car window. When they walked into the building, though, she says things were fine.
She was required to see a counselor before the procedure. “I let her know that I’d had a baby once before and that I’d given him up for adoption,” Myers says. “I knew that there was no way in hell that I was going to do that again. That was a whole other sort of pain. This was — there was no comparison.”
In 1997, Myers did not have to experience the waiting period called for by current legislation. After her required counseling, she stood in line with the other women who had gone for abortions, and each one of them was given a dose of Valium. During the procedure, she remembers, she held tightly to the nurse’s hand. Once it was over, she pulled on her denim overalls and describes feeling physically wiped out. She says she felt sadness after the procedure but not regret.
Shields and Myers were only two of a countless number of women who have to decide what to do once they become pregnant. Whether it’s keeping a child, adoption or having an abortion, these choices aren’t without heavy criticism from people on all sides of the issue, and the vehement tug-of-war doesn’t seem to be letting up.