In A Post-Roe World, Illinois Vows To Be The Midwest’s Abortion Safe Haven

Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker said that the state will fight to remain a “beacon of hope” for abortion-seekers as the rest of the region restricts access.
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As the Midwest increasingly becomes a sea of anti-abortion states ahead of the Supreme Court’s ruling likely overturning Roe v. Wade, Illinois has vowed to be the region’s one safe haven for reproductive rights.

Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker, who is currently running for reelection, reaffirmed his commitment to abortion rights after a leaked Supreme Court draft opinion showed the majority of justices are likely to overturn the decades-old landmark ruling that made seeking an abortion a federal right.

“Illinois is a beacon of hope, and we will fight like hell for women here and across the nation” even if the Supreme Court overturns Roe, the governor said earlier this month.

At least 26 states are either certain or likely to move quickly to ban abortion if the Supreme Court issues a ruling similar to the draft opinion, according to The Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive rights research group. The majority of these states are in the South and Midwest ― and geographically surround abortion-friendly Illinois ― making it likely the only place in the region for people to safely get an abortion without having to travel to the coasts should the high court rescind federal protections.

If other states enact a total ban on abortion, the percentage of women whose nearest abortion provider would be in Illinois would increase by 8,651%, according to Guttmacher. Those abortion-seekers would likely drive from Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin, Ohio, Missouri, Louisiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, Arkansas, Iowa and Alabama.

“I wanna promise you that I’ll fight hard not just for women who call Illinois home, but for every person from every corner of this country whose rights are in danger,” Pritzker said at a rally backing abortion rights in Chicago on Friday. “Now like you, I’m proud that Illinois is an island for reproductive freedom in the Midwest, but our shores remain open for any person left marooned by these extremist politicians.”

Pritzker signed a law in 2019 effectively codifying Roe v. Wade should the federal ruling be overturned. The Reproductive Health Act establishes a “fundamental” right to abortion in Illinois and requires health insurance companies to cover the procedure. It also prevents a pregnant person’s partner from being able to legally block their abortion and protects doctors from criminal penalties or having their license sanctioned if they performed an abortion.

About 46,000 people had abortions in Illinois in 2020, according to the state public health department. Almost 10,000 of those patients had traveled from other states, strongly signaling that Illinois has already been serving as a safe haven for surrounding Midwestern states with restricted abortion access.

In December, the governor signed a law repealing a requirement that doctors notify ― though not seek consent from ― parents or guardians before performing abortions on those 17 and younger. That repeal is expected to go into effect June 1.

Chicago’s health department pledged $500,000 on Monday to help residents and people from neighboring states better access abortion, as Illinois’ abortion clinics and providers prepare for a massive influx of patients from surrounding anti-abortion states. Abortion funds in Illinois are also ramping up support to assist in the anticipated increased demand, according to Block Club Chicago.

The state’s effort to protect abortion rights can be repealed however, if it has enough support from lawmakers under a Republican governor. The two most prominent Republican gubernatorial candidates in Illinois have expressed their anti-abortion views, with at least one of them campaigning on restricting access in the state.

With Democrats in Congress unlikely to successfully codify Roe v. Wade, the fight for reproductive rights will mostly fall on state-level races. Conservative leaders are already passing draconian laws in multiple states, the latest being in Oklahoma where Republicans banned abortion at about six weeks with no exception to rape or incest, and deputized private citizens to sue those who facilitate a procedure in the state.

“Every candidate running for governor needs to be asked where they stand on protecting reproductive rights,” Pritzker tweeted. “Do you intend to be like Oklahoma or do you intend to be like Illinois?”

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