Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker is launching a program to help coordinate abortions at hospitals for high-risk patients.
The initiative is dubbed the Complex Abortion Regional Line for Access, or CARLA for short. Launching in a few weeks, the program is designed to get patients who show up at clinics but need a higher level of care to hospitals faster. Obstetricians and gynecologists could also refer their high-risk patients to hospitals through the program.
Providers will call a hotline, where nurses will coordinate the logistics.
Currently the Chicago Abortion Fund and providers at hospitals text and email each other until they find an opening. It can be painstaking, around-the-clock work.
During a news conference on Monday announcing CARLA, Megan Jeyifo, executive director of CAF, said she has fielded calls from clinic parking lots or waiting rooms after patients have been told they need a higher level of care beyond what a clinic can provide.
“What do I do?” Jeyifo said they ask. “Who do I call? Where do I go? What about my kids? I only have babysitting until tomorrow. What do I tell my job? Can my plane ticket be extended, my hotel? I don’t have clothing to stay here for more than a night or two.”
In other cases, patients are left to navigate the bureaucracy of hospitals on their own. Dr. Laura Laursen, an OB-GYN who performs abortions at Rush University Medical Center on the Near West Side, said patients often get directed to the four hospitals in Chicago that regularly perform abortions for people with complex medical needs, including Rush.
“Then the patients call around, and much of it is in the patients’ hands,” Laursen said.
The stress compounds.
The number of out-of-state abortions at Rush has quadrupled since Roe overturned. Dr. Jonah Fleisher, an OB-GYN who specializes in abortion and contraception at UI Health near Rush, estimates the health system is treating at least three times more patients who are traveling from other states for abortion care.
While in the past only 3% of abortions typically occurred in hospitals, the patchwork of confusion and uncertainty around where abortion is legal in the U.S. has helped fuel the uptick of patients headed to hospitals around the country — illuminating the role these facilities play in a post-Roe world.
Laursen and Fleisher will lead the CARLA program together. Jeyifo said CAF will still play a vital role in helping patients navigate abortions at hospitals. The fund and others like it across the country are largely picking up the tab for hospital bills as well as hotel stays and meals for patients traveling from other states for care.
“The thing that changes is the race to get someone into a hospital at one of the four hospitals in Chicago,” Jeyifo said. “That will be streamlined.”
Pritzker also announced other initiatives to strengthen reproductive rights in Illinois. They include a hotline that patients would be able to call to help find an abortion provider, and $5 million to help abortion providers expand capacity through new construction and security upgrades as well as buying vehicles to provide abortion care outside the clinic.
The state also would reimburse about 1,600 female state employees or dependents who live outside of Illinois for travel and lodging related to reproductive medical care.
Kristen Schorsch covers public health and Cook County for WBEZ.