Gov. JB Pritzker marches with protesters Downtown June 24, 2022 after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago

CHICAGO — Illinois’ abortion providers need more funding and government support to keep helping the influx of people traveling here for care as other states enact abortion bans, officials said.

Reproductive health care providers such as Planned Parenthood had for months said they’d need more support if Roe v. Wade was overturned, as they expected to see a huge increase in patients as people would come to Illinois for care. That’s exactly what’s happened — and some providers are having to stretch their resources and rely more on donations to keep up, providers said at a Tuesday news conference.

Gov. JB Pritzker said state officials are looking for ways to help, including working on laws that would allow nurse practitioners to provide abortions and figuring out how to create more clinics.

Sixteen states have banned abortion, and 10 more are expected to soon enact bans.

“The reality is stark,” said Alexis McGill Johnson, president and CEO of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund. “Twenty-four states simply can’t absorb the abortion needs of all 50 states. Despite our best efforts, we won’t be able to provide care for everyone. … The folks in Illinois are literally moving mountains right now to get as many people care as possible.” 

Pritzker and Mayor Lori Lightfoot have vowed to protect and expand abortion access in Chicago and throughout Illinois. During Tuesday’s news conference, Pritzker said Illinois has become an “oasis for abortion care” as people flock here for help due to bans or severe limitations in their home states.

Planned Parenthood clinics across Illinois are seeing “more out-of-state patients than ever before,” said Jennifer Welch, chair of Planned Parenthood Illinois’ Action PAC. 

About 30 percent of patients seeking abortions in Illinois are from out of state, and even more are expected, Welch said. 

During the first week after Roe v. Wade was overturned, appointment wait times at Planned Parenthood’s Fairview Heights Health Center went from three or four days to two and a half weeks, said Yamelsie Rodriguez, CEO of Advocates of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis region and Southwest Missouri. 

“The surge of patients came much faster than any of us could have anticipated,” Rodriguez said. 

The clinic is one of only two abortion providers in southern Illinois. They have “seen the biggest impact in wait times because every state below them has cut off abortion access,” said Brigid Leahy, Planned Parenthood’s vice president of public policy. 

As patients are forced to wait for appointments, the Fairview Heights Health Center has also seen a 76 percent increase in people getting abortions later in pregnancy, Rodriguez said during the news conference. 

“Every pregnancy is different, but the longer care is delayed, the more complex it gets,” Leahy said. “A few weeks could be the difference between someone being able to take pills and someone having to have an in-clinic procedure. The further along you get, the more health risks increase, especially if someone has an underlying condition.

“And that doesn’t even touch on the emotional aspect of this. Studies have shown most people feel relief after an abortion, so delaying that can add so much stress to someone’s life.” 

To keep up, Planned Parenthood clinics are relying more heavily on individual donations as providers stretch to accommodate more patients, Rodriguez said. 

To ensure abortion remains accessible amidst this increased demand, clinics need more funding, legislation that would allow more medical professionals to provide abortions and laws to protect abortion providers from legal consequences, Welch said.

“Illinois must to do more than just protect abortion rights,” Welch said. “Illinois needs to protect providers and patients. We need to cut the red tape to eliminate barriers for providers and patients, and we need to allocate funds to support equitable care and access.” 

Welch said it’ll be important to elect pro-choice candidates in upcoming elections so leaders can do more to ensure abortion remains accessible. 

Pritzker hasn’t called lawmakers back for a special session, which he said he would in June when Roe v. Wade was overturned. But efforts to bolster abortion access in Illinois “are ongoing,” he said.

Pritzker said the state government is making progress by increasing Medicaid reimbursement rates for abortion providers this month. 

Legislators are collaborating with abortion providers and crafting laws to address their concerns, Pritzker said. 

Officials are developing laws that will protect abortion providers and patients from legal liability, allow nurse practitioners to perform abortions so providers can increase capacity and support the creation of more clinics throughout the state, Pritzker said. 

“There are things you can’t do with an executive order,” Pritzker said. “There are things the Legislature needs to enshrine into law, and those things are all being worked out.” 

Although abortion providers across the state are already strained under the increased demand for care, Rodriguez said the language in the laws needs to be carefully considered, and “it’s more important for lawmakers to get it right than to get it fast.” 

“We have a law in Illinois that says you have the right to make your own reproductive health care decisions, but having a right and being able to access it are two different things,” Leahy said. “So what we’re working on now is making sure providers are protected and abortion remains accessible.” 

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