CHICAGO — Local groups that help people access safe abortions have gotten a deluge of support in recent days — but they need long-term help to keep people safe, organizers said.
The Supreme Court has voted to overturn Roe v. Wade, which has guaranteed basic abortion rights since 1973, according to Politico, which obtained a draft of a majority opinion on the case. That ruling isn’t final until the opinion is public, which is likely to happen in the next two months, according to Politico.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Gov. JB Pritzker criticized the decision and have vowed to protect reproductive health care in the city and throughout Illinois. But many of the states around Illinois are expected to quickly ban or heavily restrict abortion access if Roe v. Wade is overturned, which could lead to Illinois providers seeing an influx of patients from out of state. Already, state clinics are helping people from areas like Missouri and Kentucky, which had strict abortion restrictions in place well before the top court ruled.
That could put more stress on Illinois’ providers, as they’d need to serve far more people, organizers have said. They’ve also warned that, even with the help of local clinics, it’s likely not everyone will be able to get the care they need, as many people will not have the time or means to travel to Illinois for a safe abortion.
In response to the news, a pro-choice rally has been planned for Saturday in The Loop. Many have also encouraged people to donate to abortion providers or share their support.
But abortion providers and advocates are calling for people to help them in the long term — and to fight for greater access to abortion care in Illinois and around the United States.
Jennifer Welsh, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Illinois, said her organization has prepared for this possibility for years, expanding its work in Illinois while seeing more out-of-staters come here for care. Still, overturning Roe v. Wade would be a “devastating blow for millions of people who will find themselves in a vast abortion desert,” Welsh said.
“They will be faced with the daunting dilemma,” Welsh said at a news conference. Whether “they travel thousands of miles to a place like Illinois to get the care they need, [or] if they seek any legal alternative, or carry a pregnancy to term against their will.”
The Midwest Access Coalition, which provides support for people seeking abortions in the Midwest, has increased its capacity over the past few months, said Madison Lyleroehr, a member of the coalition’s board of directors. Since 2015, it’s helped more than 2,000 people in 29 states access abortion.
“A lot of the states that are hostile to abortion are right around Illinois, and a lot of them are states that we already see people traveling into Illinois from” for abortion services, Lyleroehr said. “The dial is just going to be turned up.
“More people are going to have to travel, and travel farther. [And they’ll have to] pay more money, both to travel and for their procedure.”
But Illinois’ clinics can’t handle everyone, and there are “only so many appointments to go around,” Lyleroehr said. In 2019, 7,534 non-residents received an abortion in Illinois, compared to 5,668 in 2018 and 2,970 in 2014, according to the state health department.
Providers in states where abortion remains legal could fill up fast, which means some people will have to wait for an opening.
Having to wait like that could “cost more and more money,” Lyleroehr said.
“More people are going to have to travel, and travel farther. [And they’ll have to] pay more money, both to travel and for their procedure,” Lyleroehr said. “It’s this vicious cycle.”
The Chicago Abortion Fund — which provides logistical, financial and emotional support to people during their abortion process — received more than 60 calls on its hotline Monday, said Executive Director Megan Jeyifo.
“The team went right back to work” after the leak, Jeyifo said. “Calling people, reassuring them, letting them know that abortion is OK, that abortion is normal.”
The hotline’s operators have reminded callers the majority of people in the United States don’t want to see Roe overturned, and “they want you to be able to go to your appointment,” Jeyifo said. The fund’s workers “feel strong and grounded” when helping people, Jeyifo said.
The fund has seen a “deluge of great outreach” since news about the decision leaked, and its organizers are trying to determine what to do with that, Jeyifo said. She had to recruit a friend’s son to go through the flood of Instagram messages that have been sent to the group.
“It’s important that there is this massive outpouring of support, but we need sustained engagement,” Jeyifo said. “We need a culture shift.”
One way people can help is by donating, Jeyifo said. The Chicago Abortion Fund is participating in the annual National Abortion Access Fund-A-Thon. It has a goal of raising $250,000 and has received about $133,000 so far.
Money to help people access abortions is a “huge part” of what the organization needs, Jeyifo said.
“We also need people to use their voices and have conversations about abortion in their community, at their dinner table with their parents and with their kids and with their cousins,” Jeyifo said.
Organizers are also thinking about “what Illinois needs beyond the protections that we have now,” Jeyifo said. Their goal is not just to protect abortion access in Illinois — they hope to expand it to help more people, Jeyifo said.
“Sadly, we know that Roe has never served all people,” Jeyifo said. “It has always been the floor.”
Though this moment is “devastating” and “heartbreaking,” Jeyifo is hopeful the group can achieve a “more expansive vision of what abortion access looks like in this country,” she said.
“At the Chicago Abortion Fund, we are never going to stop trying to help people,” Jeyifo said. “That’s all we can do.”
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