Illinois abortion providers see surge in out-of-state patients as reproductive rights disappear in Midwest

CHICAGO – Health care groups that help people end their pregnancies safely expect an increase in the number of foreigners coming to Illinois as federal abortion protections are on the line.

The conservative Supreme Court majority signaled it could uphold an abortion ban in Mississippi, potentially overthrowing Roe v. Wade, who established a national right to abortion before a pregnancy is 23 weeks.

“Everything we’ve seen so far indicates that the Supreme Court is prepared to ignore half a century of federal law and defeat the right to abortion,” said Jennifer Welch, President and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Illinois. “I am very worried.”

In December, justices of the highest court also allowed prosecution of a Texas law banning abortion after six weeks, although they said providers could sue. Other states have introduced mock “trigger laws”, including Ohio and Tennessee, which would impose more restrictions on access to abortion if the Supreme Court diminished the protections offered by Roe v. Wade.

If these laws were passed, residents who need such health care could be forced to come elsewhere, such as Illinois.

“In both of these cases, Illinois will be the closest place for patients to come in for service,” Welch said.

As many as 26 states have “trigger laws” in place – including all of the states bordering Illinois, Welch said.

“Tens of thousands of people will be in this great abortion desert. Illinois is already serving as a haven in the Midwest for abortion care, and it’s just going to multiply, ”Welch said.

And although Chicago and Illinois have created protections against abortion, the region is no stranger to controversy over the issue. This weekend, a group of anti-choice activists marched through the city center.

And Illinois had a trigger law until November 2017, when the government of the day. Bruce Rauner signed a bill that struck down the law, which would have made abortions illegal in the state had the Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade. The bill also authorized funding for abortions through Medicaid and state employee medicare.

In 2019, Illinois passed state law protecting the right to reproductive health care, including abortion. This decision effectively designated Illinois as a destination for foreigners seeking abortions.

In 2019, 7,534 non-residents underwent abortions in Illinois, up from 5,668 in 2018 and 2,970 in 2014, according to the state health department.

Illinois abortion funds and providers have braced for a surge in people coming from out of state for treatment even before recent Supreme Court cases. They said they have seen a gradual increase in the number of people making appointments and calling their hotlines over the past few years.

“We saw it coming as soon as the former president placed so many arch-conservatives on the Supreme Court,” Welch said. “For example, we have built new health centers over the past two years, one in Flossmoor and one in Waukegan. We have built the physical infrastructure to meet the demand and we are also planning ways to expand the capacity of all of our health centers.

“We’re here for people, regardless of your zip code. It is an unnecessary burden on people’s mental health that this particular care is so stigmatized.

The Chicago Abortion Fund – which provides logistical, financial and emotional support to people during their abortion process – has also seen a “dramatic increase” in demand, with more and more people calling and seeking help. to travel to Illinois in the past two years, said executive director of the fund Megan Jeyifo.

To prepare for the potential limits to abortion access, “providers are preparing and hiring more people,” Jeyifo said.

The Chicago Abortion Fund has focused on increasing its capacity, infrastructure and money while “sounding the alarm bells” to “continue to support people at the same level, with the increased “demand for abortions in Illinois,” Jeyifo said.

Despite the organization’s planning efforts, Jeyifo said she worried about the ability of abortion funds and providers to handle the increased demand, as potentially half the country could soon enact laws. forcing residents to travel to have an abortion.

“Illinois is such a critical state in our region. It’s terrible – people are going to be forced to stay pregnant, ”Jeyifo said.

The Chicago Abortion Fund has supported about 3,000 people who traveled to Illinois for an abortion last year, up from about 1,500 in 2020 and 183 in 2018, Jefiyo said. The majority of callers are from Indiana, Missouri, Wisconsin and Iowa, although the fund has supported people from Mississippi, Kentucky, Ohio, Arkansas, Louisiana and Tennessee, Jefiyo said.

“The Supreme Court’s inability to act in Texas has heightened awareness of the circumstances in which people already find themselves – and it truly is a frightening time,” Jeyifo said. “Protecting the legal right to abortion in court is absolutely essential, but it is not enough either.

“We need to do more because the legal right to abortion is ostensibly protected at this time, and abortion is still not available for thousands of people in our region due to economic hardship or lack of coverage. insurance.

Restricting access to abortion means “people have to travel further and pay more for their travel and for their procedures,” said Madison Lyleroehr, board member for the Midwest Access Coalition. The organization provides support to people seeking abortions in the Midwest. Since 2015, it has helped more than 2,000 people in 29 states access abortion.

“Even without Roe falling, it’s really hard for a lot of people to access abortion, and it has been for a long time,” said Lyleroehr.

Lyleroehr said the financial support provided by the coalition most often goes to people’s accommodation and travel, “whether it is reimbursing gasoline, buses, trains or – for people who have to travel from longer distances – plane tickets “. The group also helps finance food and childcare.

Six in ten people who have an abortion are already mothers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Half of them have two or more children, reports The New York Times.

“We have certainly seen a slight increase [in demand] with Texas law in September, ”Lyleroehr said. “There is no reason not to anticipate a steep rise in the event that Roe falls.”

Like Jeyifo, Lyleroehr is concerned that providers in Illinois may not be able to handle an influx of patients if Roe v. Wade is canceled.

“Even in Illinois, there are only a limited number of appointments available. There are only a limited number of open clinics, ”said Lyleroehr. “When you try to serve not only your own state, but people in other states as well, it will make people wait longer, and the longer you have to wait to get an abortion, the more expensive it will be. “

In places like Missouri, Mississippi, North Dakota, and South Dakota, there is only one clinic per state, making abortion inaccessible to people who cannot travel far for it. procedure.

And about half of the women who had an abortion in 2014 were below the poverty line, with another quarter very close to poverty, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research and policy group focused on sexual health and reproductive.

“It’s a cycle where you run into a financial hurdle, and then by the time you’ve saved enough money, the cost of the procedure has gone up or the cost of a plane ticket has gone up,” Lyleroehr said.

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