Planned Parenthood chapters coordinating abortion access in Waukegan for Wisconsin residents

Planned Parenthood affiliates in Illinois and Wisconsin said Thursday they have formed a partnership to expand services at an abortion clinic in Waukegan to help serve residents of Wisconsin, where abortion services have been stopped.

That announcement came three weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion nationwide. Once the court rendered that decision, a Wisconsin law dating back to 1849 that criminalizes abortion automatically went back into effect.

"We opened the Waukegan Health Center in 2020 in anticipation of this moment," Jennifer Welch, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Illinois, said during a virtual news conference. "We expected that Wisconsin would cease access to abortion care as soon as Roe fell, so we were prepared to give Wisconsin patients the care they needed."

Doctors in Wisconsin have halted abortions while courts determine whether the state's 1849 law banning most abortions stands.

Under the arrangement, patients can still go to one of four clinics in Wisconsin to receive care before and after the procedure. But several Wisconsin clinicians, nurses and other staff members travel to the Waukegan clinic to expand capacity at that health center and other clinics in Illinois through telehealth.

Planned Parenthood opened the Waukegan clinic in 2020.

Tanya Atkinson, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin, said her organization had anticipated the overturning of Roe v. Wade for years and had been working for the past several months to build partnerships with providers in other states.

"Despite the devastating impact of this criminal abortion ban, we are grateful to have health care options for our patients right next door in Illinois," she said. "Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin is working on many fronts to provide patients with information, support, financial resources, and access to abortion services and to follow-up care."

A big change for Planned Parenthood is an enhanced patient navigation team that will organize transit to Illinois for abortions.

"Transportation is the number one need that we see at this point," Atkinson said. "Whether people need transportation support for a drive, or for a bus ticket or a train ticket, whatever it is really, we work to make that available to them."

The organizations in Illinois and Wisconsin have always worked together, but the new partnership is unique in its scale and intensity, Welch said. Wisconsin medical professionals also are getting licensed in Illinois in record numbers so they can provide care for the rising tide of patients traveling to the southern neighbor.

"Providers didn't have to get cross-licensed in such high numbers before," she said.

Illinois Right to Life condemned the Planned Parenthood partnership, calling for more "life-affirming options to women facing unplanned pregnancies."

"It's no surprise that Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin and Illinois are partnering to bring more women to Illinois so the abortion giant can profit from the deaths of their children," the organization said in a statement.

Atkinson noted that even before Roe v. Wade was overturned, Wisconsin imposed strict regulations on abortion, including a 24-hour waiting period, a prohibition against the use of telemedicine to administer abortion medications, and a requirement for parental consent to perform an abortion on a minor.

Illinois, by contrast, imposes virtually no legal restrictions on access to abortion services. The 2019 Reproductive Health Act declares access to abortion services a "fundamental right" under Illinois law. And last year, lawmakers repealed the Parental Notice of Abortion Act, which had required parents of minors seeking abortions to be notified before the procedure could be performed.

Many Wisconsin residents seeking abortions had gone to out-of-state providers, including those in Illinois. But Kristen Schultz, chief strategy and operations officer at the Illinois affiliate, said that since Roe v. Wade was overturned on June 24, there has been a tenfold increase in the number of Wisconsin residents coming to Illinois for abortion services.

Earlier in the week, Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton testified before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee about the increased demand for abortion services that Illinois is seeing from residents of other states where the procedure is now either banned or heavily restricted.

"We are not just an oasis of reproductive care, but an island," she said, according to her prepared remarks. "Here's what that looks like: It looks like disenfranchised yet determined patients coming from

every surrounding state, but also from as far away as Tennessee, Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, and Florida."

• The Associated Press contributed to this report.

A Planned Parenthood health center opened in Waukegan in 2020. In coordination with Planned Parenthood's Wisconsin chapter, it could help Wisconsin residents gain abortion access. Claire Savage/Report for America via AP
A Planned Parenthood health center opened in Waukegan in 2020. In coordination with Planned Parenthood's Wisconsin chapter, it could help Wisconsin residents gain abortion access. Claire Savage/Report for America via AP
Article Comments
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the "flag" link in the lower-right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.