State will build hotline in response to influx of patients traveling from places with abortion restrictions
By HANNAH MEISEL
Capitol News Illinois
As another of Illinois’ border states is set to enact a near-total abortion ban this week, Gov. JB Pritzker on Monday [July 31, 2023] announced several new programs to help address the influx of out-of-state abortion seekers the state has seen in the 13 months since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.
On Tuesday, Indiana will join Missouri and Kentucky in its near-total ban on the procedure, while court battles are ongoing over Republican attempts to restrict abortion in Iowa and Wisconsin. Pritzker said Illinois Democrats had been preparing for such a reality even before last summer’s landmark Supreme Court decision.
“While our neighboring states revert to forcing back-alley abortions, Illinois will remain a safe haven for women,” Pritzker said Monday at an event in Chicago announcing the investments. “And I will continue to do everything in my power to ensure widespread equitable access to reproductive rights.”
To expand Illinois’ capacity to care for the sharp increase in abortion-seekers, the state’s Department of Public Health will spend $10 million to create a hotline to aid callers in finding providers and making appointments. Pritzker had proposed the funding in February, and Democratic lawmakers included it in the state’s fiscal year 2024 budget this spring. The hotline is in its beginning stages as IDPH puts out a request for proposals.
The state’s spending plan also included $8 million in additional training for reproductive health care providers and a specialty consultation program for at-risk patients.
And on Monday, Pritzker said the state’s Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity will open a $5 million grant program for reproductive health care providers in Illinois. That money comes from the non-transportation portion of Illinois’ $45 billion infrastructure program, Rebuild Illinois. It can be spent on improvements, repairs, new construction, security upgrades and equipment, including vehicles that can be turned into mobile care units.
Additionally, Pritzker announced a new collaborative meant to help patients who need more complex reproductive health care. The state’s Department of Healthcare and Family Services, along with IDPH, will join the University of Illinois at Chicago hospital, Rush University Medical Center and the Chicago Abortion Fund to launch a hotline aimed at these high-risk patients next month.
The hotline, dubbed the Complex Abortion Regional Line for Access, or CARLA, will be staffed by nurses who will aid patients through scheduling appointments within hospital systems and getting set up with any required pre-operative testing. Additionally, CARLA’s partnership with the Chicago Abortion Fund will help patients with funding for reproductive health services, plus any transportation and child care costs while getting and recovering from treatment.
Dr. Laura Laursen, an obstetrician-gynecologist and assistant professor at Rush, will be a co-director of CARLA, and said she’s seen a rise in the number of patients seeking “complex abortion care.” She cited a recent out-of-state patient who had anemia, and as a result, couldn’t be seen by the closest abortion provider to her home state.
Laursen said this patient had to travel more than eight hours to Chicago and figure out child care for her other three kids – on top of the stress of knowing that being seen by a hospital-based abortion provider would be more expensive than the clinic where she originally had an appointment.
“By the time she reached me weeks later, her pregnancy was more advanced and more complex, and she was extremely emotionally drained,” she said. “I’m so fortunate that I was able to take care of her at Rush, but the experience of reaching me didn’t have to be so dramatic.”
Chicago Abortion Fund Executive Director Megan Jeyifo said her organization has also seen an influx of patients who need complex abortion care as GOP-controlled states have clamped down on access to the procedure. In the last 13 months, Jeyifo said CAF has supported more than 250 abortion seekers who needed hospital care – up from 26 the prior year.
“No one should have to travel to a city they’ve never been in to access health care,” Jeyifo said. “No one should have to depend on strangers to access the things they need for that trip. But this is our reality in the fallout of this horrific decision. And it is up to us together to be creative and nimble and there for people who are denied agency over their bodies and lives in their own states.”
CARLA’s startup costs for the first year come from $600,000 that IDHFS already had in its budget, according to a spokesperson for Pritzker.
Also on Monday, the governor announced the creation of a family planning program for Medicaid recipients that will cover services including annual preventative exams, family planning counseling, basic infertility counseling, screenings for cancers related to reproductive organs and all FDA-approved methods of contraception, tubal ligation, vasectomies and abortion.
The program will be paid for with a mix of federal Medicaid funding and Title X funding, but a Pritzker spokesperson couldn’t provide an exact spending amount on Monday.
Pritzker also announced the state would reimburse travel costs for state employees and dependents who live out of state but seek abortion care in Illinois. The program is modeled after an existing state program for organ donation and adoption, according to the governor’s office.
Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government. It is distributed to hundreds of print and broadcast outlets statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, along with major contributions from the Illinois Broadcasters Foundation and Southern Illinois Editorial Association.