Champaign Planned Parenthood clinic helping hundreds of “health care refugees”

Published: Oct. 25, 2022 at 6:06 PM CDT
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CHAMPAIGN (WGEM) - The Planned Parenthood clinic in Champaign re-opened 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 happened to reopen on the same day Indiana banned abortion.

Patients from 11 different states are now coming to the Champaign Health Center because they have nowhere else to turn. Doctors at the facility helped 304 patients with reproductive health care during September alone. 174 of those people received in-clinic abortions and 79 of the patients were from out of 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 across the nation. PPIL President and CEO Jennifer Welch said Tuesday that roughly one-third of patients in Illinois clinics are now coming from other states.

“They are health care refugees 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.”

Renovations at the Champaign clinic doubled the capacity for in-clinic abortion care in Central Illinois and made it easier for patients coming from Indiana and Ohio. Welch and other Planned Parenthood leaders said they were planning for the expansion several years before the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.

“We knew that people would lose access to abortion care in their home state,” Welch explained. “So, we took the necessary steps to plan care for the millions of people who now live in a vast abortion desert.”

Dr. Amy Whitaker, the chief medical officer for Planned Parenthood of Illinois, said providers are seeing hundreds of patients from out of state each month.

“I cannot emphasize enough that it’s absolutely imperative that we expand abortion care in Illinois,” Whitaker said. “Since Roe was overturned, the expected surge of patients coming to Illinois is here.”

PPIL board members said lack of access has served as a complete barrier to reproductive health care services for far too long. Urbana City Council Member Chaundra Bishop feels providers, patients, and communities benefit when there are more options for care.

“Most often it’s Black, Indigenous, people of color, people with disabilities, people in rural areas, young people, immigrants, LGBTQ+ people and people experiencing poverty that are disproportionately affected by the inaccessibility to reproductive health care,” Bishop said.

Gov. JB Pritzker, Senate President 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 expanding abortion care. The Democrats said then that it was essential to bring lawmakers and advocates into the room to continue to work together to protect reproductive rights.

“We plan to work closely together for the remainder of the summer to assess every possibility of what we can do and convene a special session in the coming months,” the Democratic leaders stated in July.

That special session never came to fruition. However, Rep. Carol Ammons (D-Urbana) said working groups are still discussing ways to increase access to abortion in existing facilities. Ammons stressed that the state will ensure there is no criminalization to access under any circumstances.

“We want full reproductive care to be provided by our state,” Ammons said. “And we are a safe haven in the Midwest, but we are a safe haven in the entire country.”

Ammons said 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 roundtable discussion with several reproductive rights organizations and private law firms Monday to discuss the anticipated need for more pro bono representation of providers, patients, and support groups. Raoul said that no one should fear legal ramifications for seeking or providing essential health care services in the state.

“As states around the country, particularly those surrounding Illinois, ban or severely restrict abortion, we are concerned about other states’ laws instilling fear, curbing access to abortion, and punishing patients and providers in Illinois,” Raoul said. “The legal community must unite to meet these challenges.”

Welch participated in the discussion and said she was glad 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 providers and our patients,” Welch said.

Welch said it is critical that people vote for politicians supporting abortion rights in November because everyone should have the freedom to decide what is best for themselves.

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