How the Supreme Court's abortion ruling is impacting providers in Illinois and Wisconsin

"This all is a very new and very frightening territory for patients."

July 14, 2022, 3:09 PM

In the three weeks since Roe v. Wade was overturned by the Supreme Court, providers in Wisconsin have suspended services amid a threat of prosecution based on a law dating back to 1849 that broadly criminalizes abortion.

The state's governor and attorney general have filed a lawsuit challenging the ban, which makes it a felony to provide an abortion except in cases where the mother's life is at risk.

In the meantime, abortion providers near the state's border have looked to help fill the need.

Since Roe fell, the number of patients from Wisconsin seeking abortion care at Planned Parenthood clinics in Illinois has increased tenfold compared to the pre-June average, according to Kristen Schultz, chief strategy and operations officer at Planned Parenthood of Illinois.

"We expect to see this need continue to expand," Schultz told reporters Thursday during a press briefing on the affiliate's partnership with Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin.

Planned Parenthood of Illinois opened a clinic in Waukegan, near the Illinois-Wisconsin border, in 2020 in anticipation of Roe being overturned and abortion care in Wisconsin becoming further restricted.

Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin has also prepped to have some of its staff -- including physicians, nurses and clinicians -- be able to help answer the increased demand on Illinois clinics, including obtaining the necessary licensure to practice in that state, the organization said.

The Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin staff has been traveling to Illinois several days a week to the Waukegan clinic to help accommodate the "tremendous increase" in patients there, Planned Parenthood of Illinois President and CEO Jennifer Welch told reporters.

PHOTO: Audrey Umnus, center, leads a march along College Avenue to protest the overturning of Roe v. Wade, July 4, 2022, in Appleton, Wis.
Audrey Umnus, center, leads a march along College Avenue to protest the overturning of Roe v. Wade, July 4, 2022, in Appleton, Wis.

The Wisconsin and Illinois Planned Parenthood affiliates have also been helping patients navigate barriers to receiving reproductive care, such as financial or transportation concerns.

"This is clear evidence that abortion restrictions and bans do not stop people from having abortions. Restrictions and bans only make it harder for people to access essential reproductive health care where they live," Welch said.

Tanya Atkinson, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin, said the Supreme Court's decision has had "devastating consequences" for patients in the state, which until the Supreme Court's decision had four clinics that provided abortion services. Some may now have to travel hundreds of miles to receive care, or not get it at all, she said.

"This all is a very new and very frightening territory for patients," she said.

There have been partnerships like this between states before, though Welch said in this case the size and structure behind the effort make it unique. She anticipates Planned Parenthood of Illinois will work with colleagues in other states as the state increasingly becomes a haven for abortion care. Previously, Planned Parenthood of Illinois said it expected between 20,000 to 30,000 more patients would travel to Illinois each year for abortion care if Roe fell.

Days after the Supreme Court's decision, an Illinois Planned Parenthood clinic near the Missouri border was working to handle increased demand after Missouri's trigger law, which prohibits physicians from performing an abortion unless the life of the mother is at risk, went into effect.

A group that includes several Wisconsin doctors is also seeking to offer abortion services at two clinics in Rockford in northern Illinois to help expand access, the Wisconsin State Journal reported this week.

ABC News' Ely Brown contributed to this report.