Abortions in the suburbs have been declining in recent years, rising downstate
After peaking at 15,228 in 2018, the number of suburban residents receiving an abortion in Illinois declined in each of the two years that followed.
By 2020, 12.1% fewer abortions were performed for suburban residents than two years prior.
The numbers stayed relatively flat in Chicago those years. However, abortions rose by 12.9% for downstate residents during the same time frame, according to Illinois Department of Public Health records.
"I think it's a generalization to say there is greater access in the suburbs," said Yvonne Oldaker, an advanced practice nurse and associate medical director with Planned Parenthood of Illinois. "Generally, people in more rural areas are required to drive further to access any health care, but depending on what suburb someone is coming from, that may take some extra time as well."
Beginning in 2015, IDPH began separating abortion data between the suburban residents of Cook County and Chicago residents. From 2015 to 2020, the most recent year with available data, suburban residents have accounted for 31% of all abortions performed in Illinois, IDPH figures show.
Planned Parenthood officials say one in four women will have an abortion in their lifetimes.
Oldaker said she doesn't believe a community's acceptance of abortion rights plays much of a part in someone's decision to seek one.
"Regardless of where anyone lives in the U.S., abortion is stigmatized," she said.
Fewer teenagers are seeking abortions in recent years, the IDPH data shows. Currently, Illinois law requires parental or guardian notification, but not approval, if a minor seeks an abortion. Starting next month, state law will change and that notification will no longer be required.
That worries some abortion opponents who claim the state's relaxed notification laws could invite exploitation by criminals.
"Sex traffickers can cover their crimes through abortion," said Amy Gehrke, executive director of Illinois Right to Life.
The IDPH data shows that women in their late 20s make up the largest age demographic of those receiving abortion services in Illinois, a recent shift from women in their early 20s.
"Making a decision to have an abortion is a personalized one," Oldaker said. "That information is not necessary to be gathered, so we don't have statistics on the reasons people seek abortion."
With the anticipated overturning of the long-standing Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion nationwide nearly 50 years ago, abortion-rights advocates expect Illinois providers to see growth from out-of-state visitors, which could put a strain on the many other services reproductive health care centers provide.
"We've seen this storm gathering for a while," Oldaker said. "We've expanded our telehealth services to account for that. Whether they live in the suburbs or a rural area, they have equal access now."
Illinois Planned Parenthood officials said telehealth appointments conducted by phone or video conferencing grew 61% between November 2021 and March 2022.
Those telehealth services are also available to women who live in other states as well.
"It just needs to be done within the borders of Illinois, so they can drive to Illinois and do their telehealth visit," Oldaker explained.