Champaign Planned Parenthood clinic helps hundreds of ‘health care refugees’

CHAMPAIGN (WGEM) – The Planned Parenthood clinic in Champaign reopened last month after a 5,000-square-foot first-floor expansion to care for more patients from Central Illinois and neighboring states. The facility also happened to reopen on the same day Indiana banned abortions.

Patients from 11 different states now come to Champaign Health Center because they have nowhere else to turn. Doctors at the medical facility helped 304 patients with reproductive health care in September alone. 174 of those people had abortions at the clinic, and 79 of the patients were from other countries.

Planned Parenthood of Illinois said the number will continue to grow as clinics across the state help minimize the gap among abortion patients across the country. PPIL President and CEO Jennifer Welch said Tuesday that roughly a third of patients at Illinois clinics now come from other states.

“They are health refugees, forced to travel hundreds and sometimes thousands of kilometers for their basic reproductive health care,” Welch said. “We’ve actually seen patients from 30 different states.”

Renovations at the Champaign clinic doubled the abortion treatment capacity at the central Illinois clinic and made it easier for patients to come from Indiana and Ohio. Welch and other Planned Parenthood leaders said they planned the expansion several years before the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.

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

Dr. Amy Whittaker, chief medical officer of Planned Parenthood of Illinois, said providers accept hundreds of out-of-state patients each month.

“I cannot stress enough that it is absolutely imperative that we expand abortion care in Illinois,” Whittaker said. “Since Roe was overturned, the expected influx of patients coming to Illinois is here.”

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

“Most often, black people, Indigenous people, people of color, people with disabilities, people in rural areas, young people, immigrants, LGBTQ+ people and people living in poverty are disproportionately affected by lack of access to reproductive health care,” said Bishop .

Gov. JB Pritzker, Senate President Don Harmon and House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch issued a joint statement July 5 noting that state lawmakers must work quickly to pass plans to expand abortion care. At the time, Democrats said it was essential to get lawmakers and advocates in the chamber to continue working together to protect reproductive rights.

“We plan to work closely through the end of the summer to evaluate every possibility of what we can do and call a special session in the coming months,” Democratic leaders said in July.

This special session never took place. However, Rep. Carol Ammons (D-Urbana) said task forces are still discussing ways to increase access to abortions at existing facilities. Ammons stressed that the state will ensure that there is no criminalization of access under any circumstances.

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

Ammons said Democrats intend to consider several pieces of legislation protecting abortion during the veto session in November or the filibuster session in early January.

Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raul 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 no one should fear legal consequences for seeking or providing essential health services in the state.

“As states across the country, especially those around Illinois, ban or severely restrict abortion, we are concerned about laws in other states that instill fear, limit access to abortion, and penalize patients and providers in Illinois,” Raul said. “The legal community must come together to meet these challenges.”

Welch participated in the discussion and said he was glad to see the group focused on preparing legislative initiatives and regulatory efforts.

“We are also in the terrible position of being forced to prepare a criminal defense for our providers and patients,” Welch said.

Welch said it’s critical that people vote for pro-abortion-rights politicians in November because everyone should have the freedom to decide what’s best for them.

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