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Pritzker, Illinois providers call for more nurses and doctors to perform abortions

Hanz Dismer, a social worker at the Hope Clinic for Women, stands in front of the reproductive health center
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
Hanz Dismer, a social worker at the Hope Clinic for Women, stands in front of the reproductive health center Granite City this month. The clinic already is seeing a swell of patients from other states and needs more providers to meet the need, Dismer said.

Illinois will need more doctors and nurses to provide abortions as an expected surge of patients from other states arrive for the procedure, Gov. J.B. Pritkzer said during a campaign stop in East St. Louis.

The U.S. Supreme Court is expected in coming weeks to overturn Roe v. Wade, a 1973 ruling that legalized abortion nationwide. Illinois is one of the few states in the Midwest where officials have said they will preserve access to abortion.

Thousands of patients are likely to come to clinics in the Metro East if the high court throws out Roe v. Wade and leaves states to determine whether abortion will be legal, Pritzker said.

“Because of the retrograde policies of the Republican Party, of Republican legislatures and Republican governors, we do expect to see quite a number of women seeking to exercise their reproductive rights by coming to Illinois,” the governor said during the stop at the Ironworkers Local 392 union hall. “And it is certainly true that clinics throughout Illinois — and there are more than 90 — will need to staff up if they're going to be able to serve people who are coming from out of state.”

To help meet the need, the state has expanded access to scholarships and paid apprenticeships for health care workers, Pritzker said.

Pritzker suggested clinics recruit physicians who perform abortions from states where the procedure could soon be outlawed.

“Obviously, our primary responsibility is making sure that the women of Illinois are served,” the governor said. “But we also want to make sure that every woman that is seeking to exercise her rights has the ability to do so here.”

Abortion providers are lobbying the Illinois attorney general and state regulators to amend state rules that would allow nurse practitioners to perform surgical abortions, Planned Parenthood officials said. Illinois law allows nurse practitioners to dispense medication that leads to abortions.

In 2019, the Illinois legislature passed the Reproductive Health Act, which allows nurse practitioners to provide surgical, in-clinic abortions, but the state has not updated its regulations to reflect that legislation, said Julie Lynn, communications director for Planned Parenthood St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri.

Clinics are already struggling to provide abortions for increasing numbers of out-of-state patients, said Hanz Dismer, social worker at Hope Clinic for Women in Granite City, one of the two clinics providing abortions in the Metro East.

“Anybody who wants to provide abortion care who’s a licensed health care provider should be able to,” Dismer said.

Many clinics have physicians travel in from other states, sometimes on planes, to give abortions, they said.

“Right now we have physicians providing all of our care, which includes medication abortion. Most physicians are trained surgeons, and their time should be used doing those procedures,” Dismer said. “Abortion is a very safe, low-complication-rate [procedure]; there’s no reason why someone with any medical training couldn’t do it if they got the proper training.”

The need for providers who can perform surgical abortions in particular will increase if Roe falls, said Dr. Colleen McNicholas, medical director of Planned Parenthood St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri.

In Illinois, medication abortions are generally available to people until they’re 11 weeks pregnant. If patients need to travel long distances to a state that provides abortions, they may not be able to make it in time, she said.

“With a substantial decrease in the number of clinics, the consequence is there will be people later in their pregnancy,” McNicholas said.

Surgical abortions often don’t require follow-up appointments to confirm if they were successful, unlike medication abortions, she said.

Brian Munoz contributed reporting.

Follow Sarah on Twitter: @petit_smudge

Sarah Fentem is the health reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.