Activists expect some Texans will head to Illinois for abortions because of new strict law
Activists on both sides of the abortion debate believe a Texas law banning most abortions will lead to more people seeking the procedure in Illinois.
The Texas law, enacted Wednesday, prohibits abortions once medical professionals can detect fetal cardiac activity, usually around six weeks and before most women know they're pregnant. It is among the strictest anti-abortion laws in the U.S.
As far away as the Lone Star State is, Illinois might be the nearest state with the least restrictions for many Texans seeking abortions.
The states immediately to the east and northeast of Texas -- Louisiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma -- all have laws abortion-rights advocates like Ameri Klafeta consider hostile to their cause.
Many of the states that border Texas' neighbors also have laws that are more restrictive than Illinois'.
In Illinois, the 2019 Reproductive Health Act ensures access to pregnancy care, birth control, abortion and other services. And under state law, although parental notification is required for anyone under 18 seeking an abortion, parental consent isn't.
At least 5,668 residents of other states received abortions in Illinois in 2018, the most recent year for which Illinois Department of Health data was publicly available. That's about 13% of all abortions performed in the state that year and the highest number of out-of-state residents getting abortions here dating back to at least 1995.
The number rose annually from 2014 to 2018.
That troubles Amy Gehrke, the executive director of Illinois Right to Life. She accused Gov. J.B. Pritzker, who signed the 2019 law, of trying to turn Illinois into the "abortion capital of the Midwest."
"(Illinois) is out of touch with the rest of the country," she said.
Gehrke is among those who expect the number of out-of-state residents seeking abortions in Illinois to rise because of the law in Texas.
"It's very easy to get a flight from Dallas to Chicago," Gehrke said. "We know this is happening."
Not every Texan considering an abortion has the financial means to purchase such a ticket, of course. About 75% of people who seek abortions are poor or have low incomes, Klafeta said.
Additionally, some Texans may not have the ability to get to an airport easily, take time off work or find someone to care for other children while they're gone, Klafeta said. They'll have to consider ending the pregnancy themselves or carrying the fetus to term, she said.
But others will make the trip north. Some already have.
"On Friday, we had two patients who traveled from Texas to receive health care in Illinois -- only three days after (the law) took effect," said Jennifer Welch, the president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Illinois, a nonprofit organization that provides reproductive health care, including abortions.
Some programs and organizations help people who need to travel out of state for an abortion, offering funding and travel or lodging assistance, Welch said. Online tools can help people find the nearest health clinic that offers abortion services, too.
Welch and Klafeta both believe the Texas law -- and the U.S. Supreme Court's decision not to block it -- could embolden lawmakers who oppose abortion to push for similar legislation in their states.
"The Texas law sets a dangerous legal precedent," Welch said. "Every person should be able to make their own decisions about their health and their bodies, including abortion. No one should have their most personal medical decisions controlled by politicians, neighbors, complete strangers or anyone else."
Gehrke, on the other hand, would welcome legislative action inspired by the Texas law -- particularly in Illinois.
It was only four years ago, Gehrke noted, that then-Gov. Bruce Rauner signed legislation allowing state health insurance and Medicaid coverage for abortion. The same law eliminated a legal provision that could have made abortions illegal in Illinois if the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the landmark Roe v. Wade decision guaranteeing abortion rights across the nation.
"People of Illinois want common-sense restrictions on abortion," Gehrke said.
• Daily Herald news services contributed to this report.