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Illinois is preparing for a potential influx of people seeking abortions

The Flossmoor Health Center opened in 2018. A procedure room where abortions and other reproductive health care are performed. The standard medical equipment includes an ultra sound machine and various monitors.
Cheryl Corley/NPR
The Flossmoor Health Center opened in 2018. A procedure room where abortions and other reproductive health care are performed. The standard medical equipment includes an ultra sound machine and various monitors.

Updated May 13, 2022 at 6:43 AM ET

Flossmoor is a Chicago suburb and just about a half-hour's drive from Indiana. It's also where Planned Parenthood of Illinois runs one of its newest health centers.

The center's manager, Stephanie Navarro, explains that the center provides key reproductive and healthcare access to many living in the region, whether they live in Illinois or just across the state line in Indiana.

Medical treatment includes treatment for sexually transmitted infections, family planning, vasectomies and abortions. While most patients with abortion appointments are from Illinois, Navarro says the center expects to see a jump in nonresidents, if abortion is limited or banned in other states.

"Between January and April, we've had about 15 or 20 patients from Indiana," she says. "And we've had a handful of Texas patients coming in." A Texas law that went into effect in 2021 prohibits abortions about six weeks after pregnancy.

If the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, states will set their own abortion policy. Illinois, unlike many of its neighboring states, has provisions that will keep abortion intact.

If Roe v. Wade falls, 26 states are certain or likely to ban abortion

Nearly five years ago, the state's former Republican governor, Bruce Rauner, signed into law a measure that removed a so-called "trigger provision" that allows a state to immediately ban abortions if the federal abortion law is repealed. In 2019, the state's current governor, Democrat J.B. Pritzker, signed the state's Reproductive Health Act that made access to reproductive health, including abortions, a fundamental right in the state.

If Roe v. Wade falls, 26 states are certain or likely to ban abortion, according to the Guttmacher Institution, a reproductive health research organization that supports abortion rights. That would likely include Missouri, Indiana and most states in the Midwest, which have placed more limits on abortion access than Illinois. Those state-by-state differences may be behind the increasing number of non-residents getting abortions in Illinois.

According to the Illinois Department of Public Health, the numbers have been on the rise since 2011 when slightly more than 3,000 out of state patients received abortions in Illinois. By 2020, the number was 9,686- almost 20% of the total number of abortions performed in the state that year.

Jennifer Welch, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Illinois, says she expects the number of non-resident patients to climb if Roe v. Wade is overturned.

"What we're trying to figure out is, how can we welcome in 20,000 or 30,000 more patients from all of our neighbor states or even farther away," says Welch.

Health care assistant Sonja Lilly, left, and the center's manager Stephanie Navarro expect an increase in patients if Roe v. Wade is overturned.  The Flossmoor Health Center is a short drive away from Indiana, a state likely to further restrict or ban abortion.
/ Cheryl Corley/NPR
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Cheryl Corley/NPR
Health care assistant Sonja Lilly, left, and the center's manager Stephanie Navarro expect an increase in patients if Roe v. Wade is overturned. The Flossmoor Health Center is a short drive away from Indiana, a state likely to further restrict or ban abortion.

Abortion rights advocates worry about how women in states that may outlaw abortion will get to Illinois

Planned Parenthood of Illinois operates 17 health centers in the state. Welch says the agency often uses telehealth or video visits for Illinois patients who can pick up abortion pills at a clinic or have them mailed to an address in the state. That would leave more room at facilities for out-of-state clients.

The agency also doubled the size of its health center in downtown Chicago. In recent years, it built two new facilities --the health center in Flossmoor and another in Waukegan, near the Illinois-Wisconsin border. There's also a Planned Parenthood health center in downstate Illinois near St. Louis, Mo.

Flossmoor manager Stephanie Navarro says in preparing for the patient surge, the center increased its surgery days from one to two days a week and cross-trained the agency's "reproductive health assistants." Those staffers aren't licensed and don't perform abortions. Instead, they provide support services like contraception counseling and patient education, along with taking vitals and drawing blood.

"So if it (the repeal of Roe v. Wade) does happen," says Navarro, "we're ready to take on all the patients coming to us."

The worry for some abortion rights advocates is how women in states that may outlaw abortion will get to Illinois, especially those with little money or women of color. Megan Jeyifo, the executive director of the Chicago Abortion Fund, says her group helps individuals navigate barriers here.

"So that is working directly with clinics to pay for appointments. That's working with callers to provide transportation. We have partnerships here in Chicago, with the Chicago Child Care Collective, to provide child care during appointments," says Jeyifo, "So it's really a holistic approach."

Illinois lawmakers are also working to find ways to protect physicians and other health care providers who practice in more than one state. Illinois Rep. Kelly Cassidy, a Democrat, was the lead sponsor of the state's Reproductive Health Act, protecting access to abortion. She says this new measure, now in committee, would ensure that people could continue to work in Illinois if another state revokes their professional license over abortion practices that remain legal in Illinois.

John Ryan, (left) Mary Griffin and Rich Mantoan hand out literature and place signs opposing abortion near the Planned Parenthood property.
/ Cheryl Corley/NPR
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Cheryl Corley/NPR
John Ryan, (left) Mary Griffin and Rich Mantoan hand out literature and place signs opposing abortion near the Planned Parenthood property.

Anti-abortionists are ready for a new battle against "abortion tourism" in Illinois

While abortion rights supporters prepare, abortion rights opponents in the state say they welcome the prospect of the U.S. Supreme Court overturning the country's abortion law.

John Ryan is a volunteer with Coalition Life, an anti-abortion activist organization. He and a few protesters were ending a day of handing out flyers as they stood at the front of the driveway near the Flossmoor health center and a pregnancy care center next door, which opposes abortion. Ryan says he knows their presence makes a difference.

"We know that it does. We're very much aware of women who go over to Aid for Women and who have gone ahead and had their babies."

Eric Scheidler, the executive director of the Pro-Life Action League says it's a challenging time for abortion rights opponents in Illinois. Decades ago, his father and the group were in a furious legal battle over anti-abortion protests at clinics.

Scheidler says they are ready for a new battle against what he called "abortion tourism" in Illinois. "We'll be redoubling our efforts to be out in the public square," says Scheidler, "and offering help to women so to the extent that we possibly can, that they don't feel all that pressure to get abortion."

He says abortion rights opponents will be protesting outside a Planned Parenthood of Illinois event this week, as the agency holds one of its largest fundraisers. The gala is part of a three-year effort to raise $40 million to fund reproductive health care in the state.

Protests over the potential overturning of Roe v. Wade are expected in many cities May 14 , Saturday, too, with major rallies planned for Chicago, New York, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C.

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