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Nearly 10,000 women traveled from out of state to have an abortion in Illinois in 2020 — a 29% increase

Chicago Tribune logo Chicago Tribune 1/25/2022 Angie Leventis Lourgos, Chicago Tribune
Then-Illinois House Republican Peter Breen disavowed Gov. Bruce Rauner at a news conference after Rauner signed a bill expanding taxpayer-subsidized abortions for women covered by Medicaid and state employee insurance on Sept. 28, 2017. © Terrence Antonio James/Chicago Tribune/TNS Then-Illinois House Republican Peter Breen disavowed Gov. Bruce Rauner at a news conference after Rauner signed a bill expanding taxpayer-subsidized abortions for women covered by Medicaid and state employee insurance on Sept. 28, 2017.

Nearly 10,000 women traveled from out of state to have an abortion in Illinois in 2020, a roughly 29% increase compared with the previous year, according to the most recent Illinois Department of Public Health data available.

State health statistics show 9,686 out-of-state women terminated a pregnancy in Illinois in 2020, comprising about 21% of all 46,243 abortions performed statewide. This was over 2,000 more than the 7,534 women who came here from another state in 2019. State data from 2021 was not available.

The rise in travelers was anticipated by reproductive rights advocates and opponents of abortion alike, attributed largely to nearby states with increasingly stringent abortion laws, including those mandating waiting periods, gestational limits and more regulations on clinics.

Reproductive freedoms are increasingly under fire in much of the country, particularly many Midwestern states that surround Illinois as well as southern portions of the nation.

The U.S. Supreme Court by midyear is expected to rule on one of the most influential abortion cases in decades: Dobbs v. Jackson will determine the legality of a Mississippi law that bars abortion past 15 weeks gestation. The case could also dictate the fate of Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 case that established the right to terminate a pregnancy nationwide.

If Roe were to be overturned or significantly curtailed, the matter of abortion rights would be resolved at the state level. Experts predict that roughly half the nation would ban or severely restrict abortion, including every state adjacent to Illinois.

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker speaks before signing the Reproductive Health Act into law at the Chicago Cultural Center on June 12, 2019. The law establishes "the fundamental right" of a pregnant woman to have an abortion. © Jose M. Osorio/Chicago Tribune/TNS Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker speaks before signing the Reproductive Health Act into law at the Chicago Cultural Center on June 12, 2019. The law establishes "the fundamental right" of a pregnant woman to have an abortion.

At the same time, Illinois has ensconced abortion rights in state law. In 2019, Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed the Reproductive Health Act, which established terminating a pregnancy as a “fundamental right” for women in Illinois.

Ameri Klafeta, director of the Women’s and Reproductive Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, said the 2020 Illinois abortion numbers “reflect two undeniable realities.”

“First, Illinois has taken steps through the Reproductive Health Act … to assure (access) to reproductive health care,” she said. “The other truth is that this time period has been marked by escalating activity in many other states — including many in the Midwest — to choke off access to such care. Banning abortion and other reproductive health care in these surrounding states does not erase the need for access to critical health care — despite the magical thinking of anti-abortion politicians inside and outside Illinois’ borders. It is hopeful and helpful that some number of those affected by these regressive laws are able to get care in our state.”

Jennifer Welch, president of Planned Parenthood of Illinois, speaks to abortion rights activists during a demonstration at Federal Plaza in Chicago on Dec. 1, 2021. © Terrence Antonio James/Chicago Tribune/TNS Jennifer Welch, president of Planned Parenthood of Illinois, speaks to abortion rights activists during a demonstration at Federal Plaza in Chicago on Dec. 1, 2021.

The number of women crossing state lines to come to Illinois for the procedure has risen every year since 2014.

Former state lawmaker and prominent abortion opponent Peter Breen called the trend “disturbing.”

“When you look at the way Illinois has legislated, it makes sense that folks from out of state would stream into Illinois to get abortions,” said Breen, vice president and senior counsel with the Chicago-based nonprofit public interest law firm the Thomas More Society. “I don’t think the people of Illinois wanted our state to become known as the abortion capital of the Midwest, but our legislators and government have decided to move us in that direction.”

New abortion clinics had also recently opened near state boundary lines: An 18,000-square-foot Planned Parenthood facility opened in 2019 in Fairview Heights right by the Missouri border and another Planned Parenthood opened in May 2020 in Waukegan near the Wisconsin border.

Another factor might have been several states that intermittently halted abortion services in 2020 citing the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving patients scrambling to find an appointment elsewhere.


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The Chicago-based American Medical Association had decried these temporary bans as “government intrusion” in medical care.

“While many physicians and health care workers are on the front lines in the COVID-19 pandemic, it is unfortunate that elected officials in some states are exploiting this moment to ban or dramatically limit women’s reproductive health care, labeling procedures as ‘non-urgent,’” the organization said in a March 2020 written statement.

Overall, the total number of abortions in Illinois decreased slightly during the same period, from 46,517 in 2019 to 46,243 in 2020. There was a decline in the number of Illinois residents who terminated a pregnancy, from 38,756 in 2019 to 36,174 in 2020.

Breen pointed out that the national birthrate also declined during that same period, which might account for the decrease in in-state abortions. The number of births in the U.S. decreased from more than 3.7 million in 2019 to about 3.6 million in 2020.

National abortion figures have not been released for 2020. Nationwide, 2019 saw a slight increase in terminated pregnancies compared with 2018, after many years of decline, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data.

Experts on both sides of the abortion debate predict the number of out-of-state travelers will continue to rise in the future.

Last month, Pritzker signed a law repealing parental notification requirements for minors seeking an abortion in Illinois. Supporters of the change say repeal was needed to protect the rights and health of vulnerable young people, particularly those from unsafe households.

Opponents, however, were alarmed that parents could be kept in the dark about the health care decisions of their children. Breen predicted that the repeal will draw more minors from other states to Illinois, since every state surrounding Illinois has some form of a parental notice requirement.

“Minor girls will be brought to Illinois by the thousands in order to avoid notifying their parents of their pregnancies,” Breen said.

The Food and Drug Administration in December permanently eased previous restrictions on shipping abortion pills via mail; this allows patients in Illinois and some other states to get a prescription through a telemedicine visit and then get the medication shipped to their home, another means to access abortion services.

Illinois abortion providers say they expect more women will be traveling here from other states for reproductive health care in the future.

“As Illinois continues to break down barriers to health care, we will remain a needed haven in the Midwest,” said Jennifer Welch, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Illinois. “We are planning for Illinois’ out-of-state numbers to continue to increase as long as other states are allowed to enact harmful and unconstitutional abortion bans and restrictions.”

Last week, two abortion providers in southern Illinois opened a new resource for out-of-state travelers called the Regional Logistics Center, where designated case managers will help patients book transportation, find lodging and connect them with funding resources to help pay for the procedure and other associated costs.

The center — which is inside the Planned Parenthood clinic in Fairview Heights — is a joint project by Reproductive Health Services of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Hope Clinic for Women in Granite City.

In September, a Texas law went into effect barring abortions as early as about six weeks gestation, before many women even know they’re pregnant, all but banning the procedure in the second-largest state in the nation.

Dr. Erin King, executive director of Hope Clinic for Women, told the Tribune her clinic now sees several patients who travel from Texas each week. She described one recent patient who found out she was pregnant on a Wednesday, made the appointment on Friday and flew in on Saturday to have a medication abortion. King recalled that the patient flew back to Texas that same day, and that trip had been her first time on an airplane.

“The volume of patients fleeing to Illinois will only grow,” said Yamelsie Rodríguez, president and CEO of Reproductive Health Services of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region, at the center’s opening. “If Roe is overturned, we expect to see 14,000 patients from outside our service area in the first year.”

But to foes of abortion, the role of Illinois as a reproductive rights oasis in the Midwest has long been considered a disgrace.

“Illinois is drastically out of step with the rest of the Midwest,” said Kevin Grillot, executive director of March for Life Chicago. “The last five years, Illinois legislators have prioritized the abortion industry over the people that they represent.”

Eric Scheidler, executive director of the Chicago-based Pro-Life Action League, added that “there’s nothing inevitable” about the rise of Illinois as “a major abortion state.”

“As we continue to see the impact of the government’s aggressive expansion of abortion in Illinois, especially abortions performed on minors … from out of state, we may see more willingness on the part of voters to rein in this abortion license,” he said.

eleventis@chicagotribune.com

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