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Illinois could become an oasis in an ‘abortion desert’ if Roe v. Wade is overturned

Illinois Handmaids protest abortion restrictions at a rally in downtown Springfield in 2021.

Abortions will still be legal in the state of Illinois if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns the federal constitutional protections enshrined by the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.

But Planned Parenthood of Illinois president and CEO Jennifer Welch warns the state would become an oasis in a Midwestern “abortion desert” if a draft majority opinion leaked to Politico Monday night is officially published later this year.

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Welch said Planned Parenthood of Illinois is preparing for a two to five-fold increase in the number of out-of-state patients coming to Illinois for abortions.

“If and when all of the states around us put in the abortion bans and restrictions that they have been passing through legislation, we could see as many as 30,000 additional patients here in Illinois per year,” Welch said.

Welch said she was furious upon hearing the news – but not surprised.

“We have been thinking that this was going to happen for many years, really, since the former president put three arch-conservatives on the Supreme Court,” she said. “But still, it’s devastating news to hear that the court intends to ignore 50 years of settled law and overturn Roe v. Wade.”

Illinois Right to Life Executive Director Amy Gehrke blasted the leak of the draft document, calling it an “egregious act.” That echoed the tone adopted by Chief Justice John Roberts and many congressional Republicans, including Rep. Darin LaHood of Dunlap.

“The unprecedented leak of Justice Alito’s reported draft opinion is an attack on the independence of the Supreme Court – a separate and equal branch of our government,” said LaHood in a prepared statement blasting Democrats’ so-called “extreme abortion agenda.”

But neither Gehrke nor LaHood disagreed with the opinion’s substance. Gehrke stated Roe v. Wade created an erroneous “right” to abortion, with no standing in the U.S. Constitution.

“As a father of three and a staunch Pro-Life advocate, I believe that the Supreme Court should reconsider Roe and that states should be empowered to enact Pro-Life protections for the unborn,” said LaHood.

Congresswoman Cheri Bustos (D-Moline) said the draft opinion allows the government to come into a person’s home and force a decision upon them and their family.

“Personal medical decisions should be made between a patient and her doctor, not by the U.S. Supreme Court,” Bustos said in a statement. “If the Court formally adopts the leaked draft opinion, it would represent a radical departure from longstanding protections of personal freedom and bodily autonomy.”

Welch said new health centers, expansions, telehealth and a navigation program to assist people traveling from neighboring states are some steps Planned Parenthood of Illinois is taking to prepare for an overturning of Roe. She’s also speaking frequently with Planned Parenthood leaders in neighboring states, but there’s still a lot of unanswered questions.

“Illinois will be within this vast abortion desert, where patients will have to make really tough choices,” she said. “Are they going to travel thousands of miles to get the care that they need? Are they going to continue with an unplanned pregnancy, or are they going to seek an illegal alternative?”

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