One year later: Roe v. Wade fallout rocks Illinois with surge of women seeking abortions

A year after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, Illinois has become a nexus for women seeking abortion care and a central player in the national reproductive rights crucible.

Fourteen states now ban abortion, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, including Kentucky, Missouri and Wisconsin, which border Illinois.

Dr. Erin King, executive director of the Hope Clinic, knew an influx of out-of-state patients who need abortions would be coming to the East St. Louis facility after the June 24, 2022, court ruling.

Still, "it's almost surreal to now every day talk to people that are traveling from Florida, Mississippi, Texas, Alabama, Arkansas, Missouri, Kansas," to name a few places, King said.

"This year has been a horrendous example of how public health operates in the United States. We have become a country where the disparities in health care are almost insurmountable for so many people."

After the demise of Roe, which legalized abortion in 1973, numerous states enacted decades-old trigger laws to restrict the procedure. Illinois Democrats went in the opposite direction.

"In Illinois, abortion is legal and abortion is health care, and we will continue our work to affirm that," Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Thursday.

"In the past year alone, we have strengthened legal protections for providers and patients, increased Title X funding, and removed copays for birth control and medication abortions. As long as I am governor, abortion will remain safe and legal in Illinois," he said.

Planned Parenthood of Illinois on June 12 reported a 54% rise in patients seeking abortion procedures or medication since June 2022. Before the Supreme Court decision, 7% of clients came from out of state; that portion has risen to 25%.

Contributing to the increase is a collaboration last summer between Planned Parenthood of Illinois and Wisconsin to expand a Waukegan clinic.

As a result, Wisconsin Planned Parenthood clinicians and nurses now are commuting to the Illinois facility to treat the surge of patients from the north.

Meanwhile, fallout from the ruling has disproportionately affected many lower-income women who can't afford to travel for the procedure, advocates said.

That's meant Illinois abortion providers are also troubleshooting logistics to get patients to appointments.

Julie Uhal, manager of the Securing Access For Everyone abortion expansion program at Planned Parenthood of Illinois, gave the example of a client from Tennessee, where abortion is banned.

"She wasn't an English speaker and didn't have any ID, so she couldn't get on a plane and really needed to get back to work the next day after the appointment. So they coordinated a 10-hour bus ride," Uhal said in an earlier interview.

It's not just about abortions, said state Sen. Cristina Castro, an Elgin Democrat.

Illinois remains "a safe place for people to get the care they need - whether it is assistive reproductive technology such as in vitro fertilization, abortion, birth control or prenatal care," she said.

Former Republican gubernatorial candidate and state Rep. Jeanne Ives of Wheaton, however, calls Democrats' abortion policies extreme and out of touch with voters.

"Illinois is now known to be the travel destination for abortion," Ives said. But "the majority wants limits on abortion. The majority believe parents have a right to know if their minor daughter is seeking an abortion. There's a disconnect between what the majority of people believe and what the politicians are putting in place."

Fifty-one years ago, Chicago police busted members of the Jane collective, a group of women providing safe abortions when they were banned across much of the U.S. and back-alley procedures were injuring and killing patients.

Jane member Jeanne Galatzer-Levy, who was arrested on charges of performing abortions in 1972, is "very hopeful that we'll beat this. It's a loser for elected officials to take away reproductive rights."

Heather Booth, who founded Jane in 1965, said "the young population is increasingly for reproductive freedoms and expansion of our freedoms. If we organize, we have changed this world and we can change this world."

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The Planned Parenthood Illinois facility in Waukegan joined forces with Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin in summer 2022 after the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. Associated Press
Abortion opponents celebrate outside the Supreme Court in Washington on June 24, 2022, after the court's decision to end constitutional protections for abortion that had been in place nearly 50 years. Associated Press
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