Since Roe’s end, Illinois abortion providers treat more out-of-state patients


Six months after the historic fall of Roe v. Wade, Illinois abortion providers say they’re seeing an unprecedented number of out-of-state patients — and they’re traveling from more states than ever before.

Before the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 24 decision to rescind federal abortion protections, Planned Parenthood of Illinois saw dozens of patients from other states every month. Now hundreds of patients are crossing state lines each month to have an abortion at one of Planned Parenthood’s 17 health centers across the state.

Almost a third of the agency’s patients are now from out of state, as opposed to about 6% prior to the demise of Roe, the landmark 1973 Supreme Court ruling that guaranteed the right to end a pregnancy nationwide.

“It is clear that abortion bans don’t stop people from having or needing abortions, they just make it more difficult to access care,” said Jennifer Welch, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Illinois. “The number of patients from other states forced to travel to our health centers is at a historic high.”

Planned Parenthood of Illinois typically saw patients from 10 to 15 states besides Illinois each month, but that number increased to 31 states after the end of Roe. The number of patients coming from Wisconsin has surged tenfold.

“We’re also seeing more patients than ever before from Tennessee, Missouri, Kentucky and Texas,” Welch added.

Nationwide, 16 states had near-total abortion bans at some point in 2022, and a dozen of those laws were in effect as of mid-December, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supports abortion rights. Abortion bans in the four other states have been blocked by the courts.

Fifty abortion restrictions were adopted nationwide in 2022, a decrease from more than 100 anti-abortion laws enacted last year, according to a Dec. 19 Guttmacher report.

“However, many of the laws passed this year are near-total abortion bans,” the report said. “Combined with the implementation of pre-Roe laws and trigger bans that had been enacted in previous years, these laws have restricted abortion access for millions of people.”

Many of those states are in the Midwest and South, which has had an immediate impact on travel to Illinois, a state where abortion remains legal and the right to terminate a pregnancy is ensconced in state law.

“Surrounded by states where abortion is now unavailable and even criminalized, Illinois is a critical access point for those seeking care in the Midwest and South,” said Elisabeth Smith, director of state policy and advocacy at the Center for Reproductive Rights. “There has been a massive influx of patients from across the region, and Illinois providers have shown incredible resolve and determination to provide care to those who need it.”

The high court’s decision to overturn Roe “has made Illinois the abortion capital of the U.S.,” said Eric Scheidler, executive director of the Chicago-based Pro-Life Action League.

“Abortion providers and the government of Illinois are working to draw women here from across the region for abortions,” he said. “This is bound to have an impact on people’s reproductive choices. Poor women throughout the Midwest are being told they need abortions in Illinois — not affordable housing, or adequate health care, or better child care options, but just abortion.”

Pro-Life Action League members sing Christmas carols outside Access Health Center in Downers Grove on Dec. 17, 2022.

Earlier this month, Scheidler and the Pro-Life Action League went Christmas caroling at several local abortion clinics, an annual demonstration dubbed “Peace in the Womb,” which began in 2003.

This was the first year of caroling post-Roe. Scheidler said caroling felt different this year, in part due to “the sorrow of abortion being so entrenched here in Illinois.”

But he said he’s relieved “unborn children are receiving some measure of protection from neighboring states.” Despite the ability to travel for an abortion, Scheidler said he believes the end of Roe “has already saved thousands of unborn children from abortion.”

In the future, he predicts that Iowa — a state where a measure to ban most abortions has been blocked by the courts — will pass some kind of new limit on abortion.

While Illinois has few limits on abortion access, Scheidler said he’s hopeful that eventually voters here will roll back some of the most “extreme” abortion policies, including a 2021 law that ended parental notice requirements for minors seeking to end a pregnancy.

“But it will take a long time,” he said.

While access to abortion was restricted in large swaths of the country in 2022, Smith said a record number of states and local officials passed legislation to protect reproductive rights in the first three months after the reversal of Roe. A half-dozen states passed interstate shield bills in 2022 to legally protect abortion providers, patient records and individuals that help patients access abortion.

“It is more important than ever to build up protections for abortion with every tool that we have and at every level,” she said.

In Illinois, abortion access expanded in many ways this year. A new abortion clinic called Choices: Center for Reproductive Health opened in Carbondale in October, adding a third abortion clinic to the southern Illinois region.

Choices, a reproductive health care provider based in Memphis, established the clinic there in part to provide access to patients in Tennessee, where an abortion ban went into effect in August. Carbondale, the home of Southern Illinois University, is several hours from Memphis and Nashville.

Chastity Person, right, a nurse, talks with a patient from Tennessee at Choices, a new abortion clinic in Carbondale on Oct. 27, 2022.

In October and November, the new clinic served 317 patients from 14 states, Choices said in a statement.

“Nearly 180 people traveled from Tennessee, and right behind that Mississippi,” the statement said. “The third-most people came from Arkansas and then Illinois. We had people traveling from as far as New York, Florida and Texas.”

Planned Parenthood announced in September that it had increased space and expanded abortion services at a clinic in Champaign. Over the summer, medical providers from Wisconsin began traveling to Illinois to offer abortion care, part of a joint initiative between the Planned Parenthood affiliates in each state.

These kinds of expansions came as no surprise to Illinois Right to Life Executive Director Amy Gehrke.

“We had no doubt that the multimillion-dollar abortion industry in Illinois would seek to profit from the end of Roe,” she said. The abortion industry isn’t working to empower women; it’s seeking to profit from their fear and the deaths of their children. This is particularly tragic since abortion laws in Illinois do little to provide for women’s health and safety.”

In the southern tip of the state, another Planned Parenthood affiliate recently announced plans to launch a mobile abortion clinic, which will travel along the Illinois border to help reach more patients. It consists of a retrofitted 37-foot recreational vehicle that includes a standard lab, small waiting room and two exam rooms, according to Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri, which covers the southern part of the state.

The mobile clinic is expected to be operational in early 2023, the Planned Parenthood affiliate said.

The Fairview Heights clinic near the Missouri border has seen a 300% increase in patients traveling from states other than Illinois and Missouri, since the fall of Roe; now, nearly half of all patients there are coming from outside the bi-state region, said Bonyen Lee-Gilmore, spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri.

After the reversal of Roe, wait times at the clinic went from several days to about three weeks, she said.

Lee-Gilmore added that abortion bans affect the entire public health system.

“How doctors can treat their patients, when and how a patient gets treated, and who can even get treated,” she said. “In reality, medical professionals have to wait for lawyers to determine if and when a pregnant person is sick enough to receive abortion care. … Abortion providers and advocates have been ringing the alarm bells for years about what would happen when Roe fell. The public health crisis that we’re experiencing was predictable and preventable.”

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