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Abortions shoot up in Illinois as more states ban procedure

Rain pummels a purple billboard promoting The Hope Clinic for Women. It reads "Welcome to Illinois, where you can get a safe, legal abortion."
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
A billboard promoting the Hope Clinic for Women in Granite City speaks to how Illinois has protected abortion access. Abortions have continued to increase in Illinois since nearby states have put bans in place.

Health workers in Illinois are performing about 1,800 more abortions per month on average than before the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, according to data compiled by the Society for Family Planning, a health worker-led nonprofit that advocates for abortion rights.

Missouri and many other states banned the procedure after the court’s June 2022 ruling. But the report found the number of abortions nationwide increased slightly, fueled in part by people seeking the procedure in Illinois and other states that didn’t institute bans.

“What we're seeing is that the states that are the most proximate to states with bans are the states that are seeing the largest surges in patients needing abortion,” said Ushma Upadhyay, a professor at the University of California-San Francisco who helped compile the data.

The report compared the average monthly number of abortions in each state in the two months before the Supreme Court decision with those in the 12 months after. Illinois saw the largest cumulative monthly increases out of all states. Florida, North Carolina, and other states surrounded by those with abortion bans also saw their numbers go up.

In June 2023, there were 8,040 abortions in Illinois, an increase of 45% compared with the monthly number in April 2022, before the court’s decision.

Illinois is bordered by or is close to several states that have enacted abortion bans. Missouri, Arkansas, Indiana, Kentucky and Tennessee have all limited access to the procedure following the 2022 decision.

“We're seeing sustained increases, and I think they're a result of the policy changes at the state level in Illinois and other protected access states,” Upadhyay said. “We're also seeing huge efforts among abortion funds to help people travel from states with bands to states like Illinois.”

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker and other politicians have embraced the state's role as a haven of abortion access. Insurers there are required to cover abortion, and earlier this year, the state legislature passed laws protecting abortion providers from legal action by other states.

Planned Parenthood’s clinic in Fairview Heights saw about 10,000 patients in the year after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, said Dr. Colleen McNicholas, chief medical officer of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri.

“Despite the fact that there were fewer providers, it seems as if the network that supports abortion access was able to at least in the short term [see that] patients were connected to those clinics,” she said. “Even if there were fewer clinics.”

The status Illinois has as a destination for abortion-seekers rankles Missy Martinez-Stone, president and CEO of the Center for Client Safety, a group that works with anti-abortion advocates to investigate and try to shut down abortion providers they claim violate patient safety.

The group is particularly opposed to an Illinois law that allows minors to receive abortions in the state without parental consent.

“It is our big concern that Illinois went too far the other way of removing all regulatory oversight, removing any kind of restrictions, and I feel like that’s too far,” she said.

Anti-abortion advocates cheered when the high court overturned Roe v. Wade, which had protected abortion rights for more than a half-century. But they now plan to focus on individual states, Martinez-Stone said.

“[We said] abortion didn't end in your state, it just moved,” she said. “If they truly want to see abortion ended in their state, then they need to take measures for providing better health care for women: prenatal medical services, parental leave. You need to create a state and community in which women and families can thrive.”

The report’s data is a “double-edged sword," said Alison Dreith, director of strategic partnerships at the Midwest Access Coalition, which offers logistical and financial support to people seeking abortions.

Dreith said she is pleased that abortion is still legal in some states but finds it disheartening to see so many people having to travel,

“Places like Missouri and Indiana and Wisconsin have always made Illinois a destination state for abortion care, for better or worse,” she said. “It just ultimately shows that abortion will never end, no matter what laws are passed that abortions happen before Roe v. Wade, and they're going to happen after Roe v. Wade.”

But she said moving people around the country to get to Illinois clinics is expensive and difficult.

The average travel cost for patients the fund helps is about $1,200, and that doesn’t include the cost of the procedure and other medical expenses, she said.

“It’s not sustainable,” Dreith said. “It’s held on a thread by generous supporters and their donations.”

Correction: A story published earlier incorrectly described the number of patients Planned Parenthood’s clinic in Fairview Heights saw in the year after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe vs. Wade. The clinic saw about 10,000 total patients in that year.

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