It was a busy day at a Planned Parenthood clinic in southern Illinois when a woman who had just driven more than 12 hours from Louisiana for an abortion procedure burst into tears during her health check.
Kawanna Shannon, Surgical Services Director of Reproductive Health Services at Planned Parenthood in the St. Louis area, gave up her duties and led the woman into a private room to talk. The woman said she was panicking because she used her rent money to pay for babysitting her two children, rent a car, buy gas and get to the clinic in Fairview Heights .
In the days leading up to and following the entry into force of Texas’ restrictive abortion law, clinics in surrounding states became overcrowded, diverting patients further away, including this one-day-old patient. extra time off to perform the procedure, Shannon said. The woman’s only option was Illinois, but it cost her her rent, she said.
“Nobody thinks of these difficulties when they put these bans. People have other children, people have health problems, people have all kinds of things and they spend every penny just to go somewhere else because this basic need is not accessible in their own state, ”said Shannon. “But there are people who stand up for them, regardless of laws passed or restrictions, and we are doing everything we can to be able to serve these patients. They need to know that we are going to keep fighting for them.
Illinois clinic, emblematic of a state that has seen itself as a safe haven for abortion care, feels the repercussions of Texas law in the form of dozens of women being forced to travel hundreds of miles just to get an appointment. Despite its own challenges, including staff shortages and similar legislation to be considered across the border in Missouri, the Illinois clinic said it was fully prepared to welcome any woman in need of care. medical.
The clinic has long been preparing for what it calls “the writing on the wall,” according to Yamelsie Rodríguez, president and CEO of Reproductive Health Services at Planned Parenthood in the St. Louis area, who oversees the clinic. Fairview Heights. “This is the reality that we have seen for a long time, and we are preparing for a post-Roe world with a plan to ensure that abortion services remain accessible with this clinic.”
Texas law prohibits abortions around six weeks pregnant, before most women know they are pregnant, with no exceptions for rape and incest.
Rodriguez said last month showed that access wasn’t just an issue in Texas, because when lost in a state it creates a ripple effect all the way to Fairview Heights, where hours of appointments are quickly met.
Over the past week, the clinic has received patients from Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Kentucky, Tennessee and Texas.
“No one will be turned down,” Rodriguez said.
The clinic, a $ 10 million investment from Planned Parenthood and Hope Clinic, sits on the southwestern border of the state just 15 minutes from St. Louis, and was built in anticipation of prohibitions and restrictions on abortion in neighboring states. It has the capacity to treat up to 15,000 patients per year.
Illinois is an isolated refuge in the Midwest offering unlimited access to abortion services with the Reproductive Health Act, which also guarantees access to pregnancy care and birth control.
The promoters of the law have stressed during legislative sessions the importance of its protections if the landmark Roe v. Wade was canceled. The Supreme Court said in May it would review the legality of Mississippi’s abortion ban on most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy during her next fall term.
The law will protect the right to choose regardless of what happens with Roe v. Wade, said Jennifer Welch, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Illinois. “As other states put in place more barriers for people to access this health care, we know patients will turn to Illinois and we could see tens of thousands of patients if more States are following Texas lead or so the Supreme Court further erodes abortion protection. in their case to come.
Inside the busy clinic, Dr Colleen McNicholas, one of six doctors working in the facility, spent a good chunk of her days staying late to treat patients, but more often than not, it did. goes beyond just medical care, she said.
After completing a late procedure for a patient last week, she had to help the woman, who has driven over 300 miles from Tennessee, find a way to fix her car. With everything closed after hours, McNicholas then had to help the patient get a hotel room for the night while waiting for a place to open to work on her car. It was an additional financial burden this patient was not prepared for, she said.
Most of these patients live at the intersections of marginalization with financial insecurity and housing insecurity, she said. Life itself is exhausting for them and having to jump over more barriers to access care can be a truly oppressive burden, she said.
In the United States, half of women who had an abortion in 2014 lived in poverty, according to a 2016 study by the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive health research group.
Kencia Page is the Call Center Manager at the Fairview Heights Clinic, which receives over 350 calls per day. Lots of out-of-state patients, she said, especially now that Texas is focusing on the entire abortion provider system.
“Our call center has received calls from Texas patients frantic about the Texas abortion ban and desperate to find their options,” she said. “These patients are overwhelmed. We got a call from a patient in Texas who was unsure how she could access the abortion because she had no family support or money to pay for travel and accommodation to access the abortion. out of state.
Page said it was “heartbreaking” to hear stories like this, but it puts into perspective the importance of the work they are doing and that they will have to continue if other states follow suit.
But as the clinic deals with the aftermath of Texas, across the border, Missouri is another reproductive rights battleground. An eight-week ban ordered by that state will be reviewed by a full appeals court next week. If the law is passed, access will be diverted to another state, potentially leading to more patients in Fairview Heights.
Despite bracing for an influx of patients, the clinic also faces its own challenges, including staff shortages due to the pandemic which has led to cross-training, creative schedules and sometimes longer hours.
Carrying the brunt of the patient’s struggles also weighs heavily on staff, McNicholas said.
“It’s not just that we’re here to meet the procedural needs of patients. We are often with them, holding their hands, trying to figure out how to help them deal with the financial insecurities of those 72 hours, ”she said. “There are a number of things we will definitely need to navigate, and staff morale and meeting complex patient needs is one of the challenges. “