Illi­nois be­comes a haven for women seek­ing abor­tions

Tight re­stric­tions in Mid­west cause mi­gra­tion to area

Houston Chronicle Sunday - - HEALTH | SCIENCE - By Angie Leven­tis Lour­gos CHICAGO TRI­BUNE

CHICAGO — One woman came to Chicago by bus from In­di­anapo­lis in mid-2017, preg­nant but with med­i­cal com­pli­ca­tions that would have made la­bor and de­liv­ery po­ten­tially dan­ger­ous. An­other woman trav­eled here from Wis­con­sin in March be­cause she didn’t have the fi­nan­cial means or will to have a baby.

Al­though they were strangers, 28-year-old Timna Axel hosted them in her Up­town neigh­bor­hood apart­ment for a few nights be­fore and af­ter their abor­tions at lo­cal clin­ics. Axel is a vol­un­teer with Mid­west Ac­cess Coali­tion, a Chicago non­profit that helps de­fray the costs as­so­ci­ated with trav­el­ing to ter­mi­nate a preg­nancy, in­clud­ing lodg­ing, food and trans­porta­tion.

“It seems like a lot of these (nearby) states have in­creased the bar­ri­ers to abor­tion and other health care for women in re­cent years,” she said. “It doesn’t seem right there should be this is­land of health care ac­cess in Chicago.”

More women are cross­ing state lines to have abor­tions in Illi­nois, ac­cord­ing to the lat­est sta­tis­tics from the Illi­nois De­part­ment of Pub­lic Health, which were re­leased this week.

‘An out­lier’

Last year, 5,528 women trav­eled to Illi­nois from other states to ter­mi­nate preg­nan­cies, al­most a thou­sand more than the 4,543 women who came from out of state in 2016. The num­ber of abor­tions statewide in­creased slightly, from 38,382 in 2016 to 39,329 in 2017, ac­cord­ing to an­nual state re­ports. Of those, about 1,000 abor­tions each year were pro­vided to women whose home states were marked “un­known.”

While the data doesn’t in­di­cate the rea­son for out-of­s­tate travel, Illi­nois is gen­er­ally con­sid­ered a re­pro­duc­tive rights haven in the more re­stric­tive broader Mid­west, where women of­ten face wait­ing pe­ri­ods, ges­ta­tional lim­its, fewer clin­ics and other hur­dles.

To Mary Kate Knorr, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Illi­nois Right to Life, this sta­tus is a badge of dis­honor.

“The in­crease in abor­tions per­formed on out-of­s­tate women is in­dica­tive of how truly re­gres­sive we are when it comes to pro­tect­ing pre-born chil­dren in our state,” she said. “Illi­nois is an out­lier amongst our neigh­bors, whose leg­is­la­tures have con­sulted science and found that dis­cour­ag­ing abor­tions is in the best in­ter­est of their res­i­dents.”

But Terry Cos­grove, pres­i­dent and CEO of the abor­tion rights ad­vo­cacy group Per­sonal PAC, praised Illi­nois as one of the few states in the mid­dle of the coun­try where women have ac­cess to the safe and le­gal med­i­cal pro­ce­dure.

“So many states around us are en­act­ing dan­ger­ous re­stric­tions that put the health and lives of women at risk, so women have no choice re­ally but to come to Illi­nois,” he said. “It isn’t any­thing but pure misog­yny.”

Across the coun­try, 19 states adopted 63 new abor­tion re­stric­tions in 2017, ac­cord­ing to the Guttmacher In­sti­tute, a re­search group that sup­ports abor­tion rights.

Some of the big­gest shifts have re­cently been in Iowa, which last year passed a 20week limit on the pro­ce­dure as well as a 72-hour wait­ing pe­riod, though the wait­ing pe­riod por­tion of the law was im­me­di­ately blocked by the courts.

“When ac­cess to abor­tion is po­lit­i­cally re­stricted, those who have the means to travel will do so, and those with­out means are left most vul­ner­a­ble,” said Becca Lee, spokes­woman for Planned Par­ent­hood of the Heart­land. “If some­one can travel, they may be forced to take time from work, in­cur ad­di­tional ex­penses, take time from fam­ily and make other sac­ri­fices in or­der to ac­cess a safe, le­gal abor­tion pro­ce­dure — and they shouldn’t have to.”

Planned Par­ent­hood of the Heart­land also had to close four clin­ics in Iowa last year be­cause of state de­fund­ing. Three of the clin­ics were in the eastern side of the state, near the Illi­nois bor­der.

Cait­lyn Dix­son, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Iowa Right to Life, said Iowa abor­tion num­bers have been at “his­toric lows” the past few years, and she at­tributes the de­crease in part to some of these re­cent anti-abor­tion mea­sures. While she ac­knowl­edged that some women might be head­ing to other states, she doesn’t be­lieve travel ac­counts for the en­tire drop.

“I think women are sim­ply choos­ing not to ter­mi­nate,” she said. “I be­lieve that this de­cline goes hand in hand with the cli­mate in Iowa, par­tic­u­larly af­ter see­ing the re­sults of this last elec­tion,” in­clud­ing a Repub­li­can in­cum­bent gov­er­nor staving off a pro-abor­tion rights Demo­cratic chal­lenger.

Low num­bers

A re­cent study from the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, San Fran­cisco found that, com­pared with other re­gions of the U.S., the Mid­west had the fewest num­ber of abor­tion clin­ics based on the pop­u­la­tion of women of child­bear­ing age.

Even in the Mid­west, the avail­abil­ity of abor­tion providers dif­fered sig­nif­i­cantly state by state. For ex­am­ple, Illi­nois had about two dozen clin­ics, roughly one for ev­ery 120,135 women of re­pro­duc­tive age. Whereas in neigh­bor­ing Wis­con­sin, re­searchers found three fa­cil­i­ties pro­vid­ing abor­tions, about one for ev­ery 423,590 women, ac­cord­ing to data col­lected in early 2017.

Abor­tion laws con­tin­ued to fluc­tu­ate in many Mid­west­ern states in 2018, though those changes wouldn’t have had an ef­fect on the most re­cent fig­ures in Illi­nois.

As of Oc­to­ber, Mis­souri was down to one abor­tion clinic statewide be­cause of re­quire­ments that abor­tion providers have ad­mit­ting priv­i­leges at lo­cal hos­pi­tals.

Erin Hoo­ley / TNS

Timna Axel hosts women trav­el­ing from out of state for abor­tions at her home in Up­town Chicago.

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