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Jackson County may spend $1 million to help residents get abortion care outside Missouri

A man walks in the background at the Planned Parenthood Wyandotte County building where a large female reproductive organ, painted as a sunflower is colorfully displayed on the front plate-glass window of the brick building.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
A security guard at Planned Parenthood Wyandotte County makes his rounds through the organization's parking lot recently. The clinic is one of several in Kansas seeing a surge of out-of-state patients, many from Missouri.

A proposal from Jackson County Executive Frank White would provide financial assistance for residents seeking abortions in other states. But critics question whether such a plan is legal.

A proposal by Jackson County executive Frank White Jr. would make $1 million in pandemic relief funds available to people seeking out-of-state reproductive health services like abortions.

After the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, Missouri banned abortions without exception for rape or incest, pushing people to Kansas and beyond for these procedures. The Jackson County Reproductive Equity Fund would not use American Rescue Plan funds to pay the costs of the procedure itself — rather, it would help people with transportation, lodging and childcare costs.

The fund would also support organizations already providing reproductive healthcare access in the region, such as postpartum care, doulas and lactation support.

"As elected leaders, it is our responsibility to take action when our community is in danger and it is clear that the Supreme Court's overturning of Roe v. Wade has created a major health crisis in Jackson County," White said in a statement Tuesday.

But the plan still requires approval from the county Legislature. In an appearance on KCUR's Up to Date hours after announcing the plan, White, who is running for reelection, was unsure if the current group of legislators would back the proposal. His opponent, 6th District legislator Theresa Galvin, said she didn't believe it was an allowable use of American Rescue Plan funds. The election is next week.

In August, the Jackson County Legislature rejected a motion to add a referendum to the November ballot asking voters if they think Missouri's abortion ban should be repealed to ensure safe and legal access to abortion.

County legislators Jalen Anderson and Crystal Williams said they would support the plan.

"I want to commend the County Executive for his continued leadership on reproductive health and for his willingness to fight to ensure that everyone has the freedom to control their own lives, bodies and futures," Williams said.

"Once established, the fund will help Jackson County provide the support that so many women now need, while also helping to reduce the damage done to our community by the obliteration of Roe," Anderson said.

But even if the plan does gain approval, there are looming legal hurdles to clear. A similar plan approved by the St. Louis Board of Aldermen earlier this year is currently in state court after Attorney General Eric Schmitt sued, saying abortion access is not a legal use of federal relief funds.

A spokesperson for Trust Women, a group promoting women's access to health care in Kansas and Oklahoma, said they were not prepared to comment without concrete details about the plan. Still, they raised concerns about the potential for the government to access to information about people seeking abortions.

Anamarie Rebori Simmons, a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood Great Plains, said they would support Jackson County approving the plan.

"We've long known Missourians share the same values of protecting fundamental rights as we saw demonstrated in Kansas," she said. "As a provider on both sides of the Stateline, we believe all patients should have access to abortion care, regardless of where they live."

As KCUR's health reporter, I cover the Kansas City metro in a way that reflects our expanding understanding of what health means and the ways it touches different communities and different areas in distinct ways. I will provide a platform to amplify ideas and issues often underrepresented in the media and marginalized people and communities in an authentic and honest way that goes beyond the surface of the issues. I will endeavor to find and include in my work local experts and organizations that have their ears to the ground and a beat on the health needs of the community. Reach me at noahtaborda@kcur.org.
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