Metro East has become a destination for reproductive rights

Reproductive rights providers in the eastern metropolitan area saw an influx of patients from Texas after that state’s restrictive abortion law came into effect in early September. But doctors have also seen more patients from other states.

Since the Texas law came into effect on September 1, officials at Planned Parenthood in Fairview Heights have seen a 47% increase in the number of patients coming from outside the normal service area, including patients from Louisiana, Arkansas, Kentucky, Tennessee and Kansas, according to the St. Louis Post-Expedition.

“They tell us the wait times are sometimes weeks. A clinic told them they didn’t have an appointment until November,” said Dr Colleen McNicholas, Chief Medical Officer of Reproductive Health Services from Planned Parenthood, at Post-Dispatch.

“That’s really the impact in these immediate six weeks since the Texas decision, that we’re starting to see more patients from these intermediate states who can’t wait weeks for an abortion in their own state,” McNicholas continued. .

Hope Clinic for Women in Granite City has seen “nonstop” calls from women confused about how to navigate the complex laws of Texas and surrounding states, but appointments have only increased slightly, according to the Post. -Dispatch.

In the southern and midwestern states, a myriad of abortion restrictions and facility regulations have resulted in clinic closures and dramatically reduced access to reproductive rights.

“The Hope Clinic has always been a destination for access to abortion since we opened in 1974,” wrote Alison Dreith, deputy director of the Hope Clinic, in an email. “Over 55% of the patients we serve are from Missouri, and an additional 5% are from other states in the country, including Indiana, Kentucky and Tennessee.

“This is in large part because the states surrounding Illinois, in the Midwest and the South, have reduced access to abortion care since Roe v. Wade was confirmed in 1973,” Dreith continued. . “This mosaic of access across the country did not happen overnight, and no one should be shocked at where access is today. For example, when Illinois adopted Reproductive Health Act in 2019, that’s largely because in the same year six other states moved to ban abortion – including Missouri. However, if Roe falls, Illinois should expect to potentially see tens of thousands of more patients are coming to our state for compassionate abortion care. ”

As other states impose more onerous restrictions, the Illinois General Assembly is targeting what is considered the latest restriction on access to abortion in Illinois, the PA reported.

Illinois House and Senate Democrats are pushing to repeal a law requiring a parent or guardian to be notified at least 48 hours in advance when a minor 17 or younger requests an abortion. Consent is not required unlike nearly half of the states.

Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul also joined a coalition of 24 attorneys general to ask the United States Supreme Court to reinstate an injunction barring the enforcement of the abortion ban from six weeks in Texas, which the coalition called unconstitutional in a press release Tuesday.

“For decades, the Supreme Court upheld the principle that women have the right to make their own decisions about reproductive health,” Raoul said in a statement. “Texas’ unconstitutional abortion ban blatantly ignores this precedent and, more importantly, threatens the safety and well-being of women. and abortion decisions.

Illinois is an isolated refuge in the Midwest offering unlimited access to abortion services with the Reproductive Health Act, which also guarantees access to pregnancy care and birth control.

More than 55,000 abortions were performed last year in Texas, which has nearly 7 million women aged 15 to 49, or 1 in 10 American women of childbearing age, according to the Post-Dispatch. According to estimates from the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, up to 35,000 more women are expected to turn to Illinois each year for reproductive rights, including 14,000 to southern Illinois.

“Our call center has received calls from patients in Texas frantic about the Texas abortion ban and desperate to find their options,” said Kencia Page, director of the clinic’s call center. Fairview Heights. NBC News. “These patients are overwhelmed. We got a call from a patient in Texas who was unsure how she could access an abortion because she had no family support or money to pay for travel and accommodation for her. access out-of-state abortion. “

Almost all of the patients outside Illinois who call for help are on low income and face severe hardship at home, the Post-Dispatch reported. In the United States, half of all women who had an abortion in 2014 lived in poverty, according to a 2016 study by the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive health research group.

“I think the most important thing to remember here is that denial of abortion brings economic hardship,” Dreith wrote. The Turnaway study, published by Diana Greene Foster, found that people who were denied an abortion were almost four times more likely to be below the federal poverty line, making it difficult to purchase basic things like food, shelter and transportation Abortion is a matter of economic justice for many.

Metro East doctors say their staff are helping women connect to abortion funds that help with travel logistics as well as the cost of the procedure, child care, travel expenses and hotel stays.

“Part of our job is going to be reassuring people that they can still access abortion care. It may not be immediately in their community, but they can – and us and others are here to help them figure that out, ”McNicholas told The Post. -Mail.

Abortion funds have long been a mainstay in helping women who cannot afford the costs of the procedure or travel. But these services – often small nonprofits with few employees – are also limited.

One of the abortion funds is the Midwest Access Coalition, which helps people traveling to and from the Midwest gain access to abortion. Based in Chicago, the non-profit organization relies on a network of 200 volunteer hosts, drivers and others to help with travel, accommodations, food, childcare and emotional support.

The Planned Parenthood and Hope Clinic has invested $ 10 million in their clinics and strengthened clinical capacity and infrastructure for abortion bans and restrictions in neighboring states, NBC News reported.

“Our current building was built in the 1990s to accommodate 10,000 patients per year, and we already see patients six days a week,” Dreith wrote. “However, over the last decade or more, we’ve only seen between 3,000 and 5,000 a year. So we still have the ability to see more patients if they choose us as a provider. just a shame that so many people have to access basic reproductive health care outside of their own communities. No one should have to travel outside their zip code for health care. “

This year alone, states adopted a record 97 abortion restrictions, surpassing the highest number of 2011, when 89 restrictions were enacted. In total, states have enacted 1,327 restrictions since the Roe v. Wade.

“We have seen patients coming to us from outside the United States,” Dreith wrote, “but for the United States, this year alone we have seen patients from 19 states, including Georgia, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas and Kansas. “

Growing restrictions in Missouri – including two appointments 72 hours apart and a pelvic exam for medical abortions – have virtually made abortions almost non-existent in the state, the Post-Dispatch reported. The rules have left the state with only one abortion provider in St. Louis, so many patients decide to drive the extra 15 minutes in Illinois to avoid the requirements.

As clinics brace for an influx of patients, some are struggling to cope with challenges, including staff shortages due to the pandemic, which has led to cross-training, creative schedules and sometimes longer hours for staff. The Planned Parenthood clinic in Fairview Heights plans to add employees and open seven days a week instead of six, the Post-Dispatch reported.

“Over the past few years we have started adding additional staff to meet the increased patient needs that we anticipate should Roe be gutted or overturned by the Supreme Court. But overall not much has changed for our staff. internally “. Dreith wrote. “What we have seen is an increase in calls from panicked patients about their abortion appointments.

“We hear things like, ‘I made my appointment before I saw the abortion was banned, can I still get my appointment? Or “my boyfriend told me I would go to jail if I had an abortion.” Is it true ? Of course, abortion is still legal in all 50 states, even in Texas. It’s just heartbreaking to hear that the fear that abortion is illegal in a patient’s voice, that he or she may face criminalization. We just try to reassure them that their date is still legal and valid and that we are here to support them in any way. “

Dreith said it’s important to remember that while this influx of people seeking easier access to reproductive rights is happening, it doesn’t mean Illinois is a “safe haven.” The Parental Notice of Abortion Act is still in place, although Democrats are currently working on its potential repeal.

“Perhaps more importantly, just show compassion and empathy no matter where you are privately on the issue,” Dreith wrote. “One in four women will have an abortion in her lifetime. This means that even if you don’t know the story of someone’s abortion, you can still love someone who has had an abortion. abortion.”

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