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Abortion facilitators see surge of patients in Illinois as nearby states tighten restrictions

Abortion activists gather in front of a Planned Parenthood clinic in Fairview Heights in October 2021.
Eric Schmid
St. Louis Public Radio
Abortion rights activists gather in front of a Planned Parenthood clinic in Fairview Heights last October.

A wave of anti-abortion restrictions in Missouri and other states is increasingly bringing patients seeking the procedure to Illinois — and to groups that provide money and resources to help get patients to abortion clinics.

Founded in 2015, the Midwest Access Coalition arranges the travel logistics of the trip and supplies money for lodging, child care and food during a patient’s stay.

Diana Parker-Kafka, director of the Midwest Access Coalition.
Midwest Access Coalition
Diana Parker-Kafka, director of the Midwest Access Coalition, expects Illinois to remain an abortion refuge.

Diana Parker-Kafka, the Chicago-based coalition’s executive director, says the group’s activities ramped up significantly in the past year, when it assisted more than 800 people traveling to the Midwest for abortions.

Now, the group is fielding 120 callers every month.

“We arrange all of the travel necessary for someone to get to their appointment,” Parker-Kafka explained during Wednesday’s St. Louis on the Air. “That means gas money, flights, hotel accommodations, volunteer drivers to pick you up from the airport, Uber or Lyft rides, money for child care, money for food — any barrier that someone comes to us with, we work with them to solve.”

But the sheer number of people seeking abortion services in the Midwest is putting more pressure on the funds. Parker-Kafka pointed to Texas’ SB 8, which last summer banned abortion after six weeks and empowered private citizens to sue doctors and patients who violate it. The law’s passage sent the state’s abortion numbers plummeting — but those Texas cases didn’t simply disappear.

Instead, Texans are taking to the roads in huge numbers. Many are seeking services in the Midwest. Parker-Kafka said that’s created a ripple effect, as people in Kansas and Illinois find their local clinics with full schedules.

From Texas to Illinois, Midwest Access Coalition is supporting abortion

“We’re starting to see this shift, where people in states with abortion care have to go to another state because all of the appointments [in local clinics are booked out] for weeks in advance,” she said.

She said the Texas law disrupted plans for people making decisions about their pregnancies.

“There's a big chilling effect with these laws,” she said. “By the time they get to us, they might be further along, it's costing them more money, they'll need to stay more days than they would have before. I think we're seeing a spike because of that delayed care.”

For Parker-Kafka, the flood of out-of-state patients suggests what much of America will look like in the near future. She points to recent legal decisions and the makeup of the U.S. Supreme Court as evidence that the protections established by Roe v. Wade are no longer stable. States like Texas and Missouri are just ahead of the pack.

That leaves a troubling question for advocates of abortion access. Will blue Midwest states like Illinois and Minnesota continue to have enough resources to handle the demand if other states follow Texas’ lead?

In a “post-Roe” America, the answer is no, Parker-Kafka said.

“Right now there is capacity, because there are a lot of clinics,” she observed. “But this is just Texas — this is one state that has created this ripple effect. And now we are looking at about 26 or 29 states about to follow in their footsteps.”

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Emily Woodbury, Kayla Drake, Danny Wicentowskiand Alex Heuer. Jane Mather-Glass is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Danny Wicentowski is a producer for "St. Louis on the Air."
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