CHAMPAIGN (WGEM) – Champaign’s Planned Parenthood Clinic reopened last month after a 5,000-square-foot expansion on the first floor to care for more patients from central Illinois and neighboring states. The facility also reopened the same day Indiana banned abortion.
Patients from 11 different states are now coming to Champaign Health Center because they have nowhere else to turn. Doctors at the facility helped 304 patients with reproductive health care in September alone. 174 of these people had abortions in the clinic and 79 of the patients were from outside the state.
Planned Parenthood of Illinois said the number will continue to grow as clinics across the state are helping to minimize the gap for abortion patients nationwide. PPIL President and CEO Jennifer Welch said Tuesday that about one-third of patients in Illinois clinics are now from other states.
“They are medical refugees who are forced to travel hundreds and sometimes thousands of miles for their essential reproductive health care,” Welch said. “In fact, we’ve seen patients from 30 different states.”
The Champaign Clinic renovations doubled the abortion care capacity at the clinic in central Illinois and made it easier for patients from Indiana and Ohio. Welch and other Planned Parenthood leaders said they were planning the expansion several years before the U.S. Supreme Court overthrew Roe v. Wade.
“We knew that people would lose access to abortion treatment in their home state,” Welch explained. “So, we have taken the necessary steps to plan for assistance to the millions of people now living in a vast abortion wasteland.”
Dr. Amy Whitaker, medical director of Planned Parenthood of Illinois, said the providers are seeing hundreds of out-of-state patients every month.
“I can’t stress enough that it is absolutely imperative to expand abortion care in Illinois,” Whitaker said. “Since Roe was overturned, the expected wave of patients arriving in Illinois is here.”
PPIL board members said lack of access has been a complete barrier to reproductive health care services for too long. Chaundra Bishop, a member of Urbana’s city council, believes that providers, patients and communities benefit when there are more options for care.
“Very often it is black people, indigenous people, people of color, people with disabilities, people in rural areas, young people, immigrants, LGBTQ + people and people in poverty who are disproportionately affected by the inaccessibility to ‘reproductive health care,’ Bishop said.
Governor JB Pritzker, Senate Speaker Don Harmon, and House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch released a joint statement on July 5 noting that state lawmakers should work quickly to pass plans that expand abortion care. Democrats then said it was essential to bring lawmakers and advocates into the room to continue working together to protect reproductive rights.
“We plan to work closely together for the remainder of the summer to consider any possibility of what we can do and call a special session in the coming months,” Democratic leaders said in July.
That special session never took place. However, Representative Carol Ammons (D-Urbana) said the working groups are still discussing ways to increase access to abortion in existing facilities. Ammons stressed that the state will ensure that there is no criminalization of access under any circumstances.
“We want our state to provide comprehensive reproductive care,” Ammons said. “And we’re a safe harbor in the Midwest, but we’re a safe harbor across the country.”
Ammons said the Democrats intend to address several pieces of legislation protecting abortion during the veto session in November or the lame duck session in early January.
Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul convened a panel discussion with several reproductive rights organizations and private law firms on Monday to discuss the anticipated need for more pro bono representation of providers, patients and support groups. Raoul said no one should fear the legal ramifications for finding or providing essential health services in the state.
“As states across the country, especially those surrounding Illinois, severely prohibit or restrict abortion, we are concerned about laws in other states that instill fear, curb access to abortion, and punish patients and practitioners. health care in Illinois, ”Raoul said. “The legal community must come together to address these challenges.”
Welch participated in the discussion and was pleased to see the group focused on preparing legislative initiatives and regulatory efforts.
“We are also in a horrible position to be forced to prepare criminal defense for our suppliers and our patients,” Welch said.
Welch said it’s critical that people vote for politicians supporting abortion rights in November because everyone should have the freedom to decide what’s best for themselves.
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