With abortion nearly eliminated in Wisconsin, doctors at Planned Parenthood in the Badger state are now working out of a clinic across the Illinois border in Waukegan.
Planned Parenthood organizations in Illinois and Wisconsin announced the partnership on Thursday. Planned Parenthood of Illinois’ Waukegan health center opened in 2020 with room to grow and with Wisconsin residents in mind.
“In anticipation of this moment, we expected that Wisconsin would cease access to abortion care as soon as Roe fell, so we were prepared to give Wisconsin patients the care they needed,” said Jennifer Welch, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Illinois.
Since Roe v. Wade was overturned in June, all Planned Parenthood clinics across Illinois have seen a crush of patients from Wisconsin — a 10-fold increase, Welch said.
“This is clear evidence that abortion restrictions and bans do not stop people from having abortions,” Welch said. “Restrictions and bans only make it harder for people to access essential reproductive health care where they live.”
Illinois has long been an oasis for people seeking an abortion, especially as neighboring states further reduced access. In 2020, about one in five patients who received abortions in Illinois came from other states, according to the most recent Illinois public health data. That trend has been accelerating for years, with the number of out-of-state residents seeking abortions in Illinois more than doubling over five years, to nearly 10,000 out-of-state patients in 2020, data show.
The new partnership could be a model for abortion rights proponents in other states that have banned or heavily restricted the procedure after Roe v. Wade fell. Welch said she anticipates that more providers, especially in the Midwest, will reach out about similar partnerships. Lawmakers in Indiana, another border state where abortion is heavily restricted, are set to meet this month to potentially talk about further regulating abortion.
Planned Parenthood providers from Wisconsin started working out of Waukegan last week, though the organizations would not say how many providers are now working in Illinois — only that the majority of the Wisconsin team including doctors, nurses and support staff are now traveling to Waukegan for work.
The result of the partnership is that the health center is able to double the number of providers that can perform abortions by increasing the number of appointments available. And with more providers, that could help expand services across Illinois through telehealth, said Kristen Schultz, chief strategy and operations officer at Planned Parenthood of Illinois.
Talks between the organizations started last year about the different possibilities of how to expand access to abortion in Illinois should Roe fall, Schultz said. Then a draft opinion from the Supreme Court on the fate of Roe v. Wade leaked in May and talks at Planned Parenthood intensified.
Once the Supreme Court struck down Roe, it effectively triggered Wisconsin’s 1849 law banning nearly all abortions. That law makes performing an abortion a felony, though the Democratic Wisconsin governor has said he would grant clemency to anyone charged under the law.
“We knew that there would be a wealth of trained specialized medical professionals who would be barred from providing the health care that they are licensed to perform in Wisconsin,” Schultz said at Thursday’s announcement. “At the same time, PP IL was anticipating a surge of 20,000 to 30,000 out-of-state abortion patients coming to Illinois for abortion care, and that includes thousands from Wisconsin.”
The Wisconsin providers are already licensed to practice in Illinois. It’s not new for providers to work in multiple states, but not at this volume, Welch said.
In a statement, Amy Gehrke, executive director of Illinois Right to Life, called the partnership between the Planned Parenthood organizations “particularly tragic.” The anti-abortion organization noted that Illinois no longer requires notifying parents or guardians if their minor children have abortions.
“Illinois Right to Life will continue to advocate for laws that protect women and their children as well as work to provide life-affirming options to women facing unplanned pregnancies,” Gehrke said in the statement.
Kristen Schorsch covers public health and Cook County on WBEZ’s government and politics desk. Follow her @kschorsch.