Wisconsin medical providers are traveling across state lines to provide abortions in Illinois, expanding access to the procedure after the recent fall of Roe v. Wade.
Several new abortion clinics are also expected to open soon in Rockford and Carbondale, parts of the state with a dearth of abortion providers. Two new clinics are planned for Rockford — which hasn’t had an abortion provider in about a decade — and a third clinic could begin providing medication abortions as soon as next month in Carbondale, the home of Southern Illinois University.
Reproductive rights advocates hope the new clinics and additional medical providers will help Illinois handle the recent influx of out-of-state abortion patients, following the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 24 decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, which had established the right to terminate a pregnancy nationwide since 1973.
Abortion opponents, however, lament that Illinois is becoming an “abortion mecca,” said Eric Scheidler, executive director of the Pro-Life Action League.
“The overturning of Roe v. Wade has turned Illinois into ground zero in the fight to protect unborn children,” he said.
Planned Parenthood officials in Illinois and Wisconsin have launched a partnership to increase abortion access post-Roe, which includes physicians and other staff members from Wisconsin coming to Illinois to work at an abortion clinic in north suburban Waukegan.
Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin suspended abortion services after the Supreme Court ruling. Wisconsin has an 1849 law that almost entirely bans abortion, but the law was previously unenforceable under Roe.
“During this time, we’ve seen a tenfold increase in patients from Wisconsin coming for care to Illinois,” said Jennifer Welch, Planned Parenthood of Illinois president and CEO, at a news conference on Thursday. “This is clear evidence that abortion restrictions and bans do not stop people from having abortions. Restrictions and bans only make it harder for people to access essential reproductive health care where they live.”
Wisconsin abortion providers began working in the Waukegan clinic last week. All Wisconsin clinicians who are traveling there to work will be licensed in Illinois, Planned Parenthood officials said.
“The majority of the team in Wisconsin providing abortion care have stepped up to travel to Illinois to serve that patient need,” said Kristen Schultz, chief strategy and operations officer at Planned Parenthood of Illinois, during the news conference.
A Planned Parenthood of Illinois spokeswoman would not say exactly how many Wisconsin physicians, clinicians and other employees would be working in the Waukegan clinic, citing “security” reasons; she would not elaborate on what those security concerns were.
Wisconsin providers will also offer abortion services via telehealth appointments in Waukegan, but patients must physically be in Illinois during the visit, Planned Parenthood officials said.
Planned Parenthood affiliates in both states are also providing designated “abortion navigators” who help patients with travel arrangements, finding funding to cover the cost of the procedure and other resources.
During the news conference, Welch described the case of one patient who had an abortion scheduled at a Planned Parenthood in Wisconsin the day after Roe was overturned. Her appointment had to be canceled but she still needed care quickly. The patient, a single mom with young twins, had to coordinate child care in addition to travel arrangements, Welch said.
Planned Parenthood was able to get her an abortion appointment a few days later at the Waukegan clinic. Wisconsin provided support for transportation and gas money, and Illinois provided financial assistance for the abortion, Welch said.
“So that patient got the care she needed,” Welch said. “Sadly, this story is not unique. We’ve seen a tremendous increase in patients coming from Wisconsin to all Illinois Planned Parenthood health centers.”
A Wisconsin doctor recently bought two Rockford buildings — a former acupuncture office and a former veterinary clinic — with plans to turn the sites into abortion clinics, according to The Associated Press. The physician, Dr. Dennis Christensen, did not immediately respond to Tribune requests for comment.
The Rockford Family Planning Foundation, a nonprofit that incorporated in Illinois a few days after the Supreme Court overturned Roe, is overseeing plans for the new abortion provider at the converted veterinary clinic site. The foundation’s president, Jeanne Bissell, said that abortion clinic is expected to open in roughly three to six months.
“We wanted to make sure there was a safe, legal place for people in Wisconsin to get abortion care,” she said. “It’s an essential part of health care. … It’s lifesaving care. I also think pregnant folks will go to any length to get an abortion. It’s really scary what will happen if we don’t have safe and legal care.”
Plans for the new clinics drew anti-abortion protests to Rockford on Wednesday.
“This community does not want to be plagued again by the specter of abortion,” said Dolores Pribble, outreach director of the Rockford Family Initiative. “We’re fighting to keep Rockford abortion-free.”
Another abortion clinic could be opening as soon as next month in Carbondale.
Choices Memphis Center for Reproductive Health recently announced plans to establish that clinic, which is expected to first provide medication abortions and in a later phase add procedures. The abortion provider will be about three hours from the Tennessee cities Memphis and Nashville.
There are now roughly two dozen abortion clinics in Illinois, though most are located in the Chicago area. Eleven of the 102 counties in Illinois have at least one abortion provider; in five of those counties, only medication abortions are available, which is restricted to the first 11 weeks of pregnancy, according to Planned Parenthood of Illinois.
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In the absence of Roe, the matter of abortion rights is now decided by individual states. Illinois established abortion as a “fundamental right” in the 2019 Reproductive Health Act. But nearly every other state in the Midwest is expected to either prohibit or nearly ban the procedure; some nearby states, like Wisconsin, have already done so.
Planned Parenthood of Illinois has predicted 20,000 to 30,000 more patients will be traveling to Illinois each year to terminate a pregnancy now that Roe has fallen.
That influx is on top of the thousands of patients that already cross state lines to come to Illinois to terminate a pregnancy. In 2020, nearly 10,000 patients from other states traveled here to have an abortion, according to the most recent data from the Illinois Department of Public Health; the number of out-of-state abortions has increased annually since 2014.
In preparation for more out-of-state travel, Planned Parenthood of Illinois in 2018 opened an abortion clinic in south suburban Flossmoor, near the Indiana border. The Planned Parent affiliate in the St. Louis area in 2019 opened another abortion clinic in Fairview Heights, close to the Missouri border.
The Waukegan clinic, which is just a few miles from Wisconsin, opened in 2020.
“The proximity to Wisconsin — a state that poses stringent legal barriers to abortion — was a critical factor in choosing the location,” Welch had said in a statement at the time.