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Travel To Illinois Border Clinics Soars As Abortion Providers Beef Up Healthcare Infrastructure

It has been two years since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. Since then, Illinois has established itself as the nation's largest hub for out-of-state patients seeking abortion care, treating tens of thousands of women flocking to border clinics from restricted states in the South and Midwest. 

When Roe was overturned, some providers and healthcare real estate insiders worried that the state's healthcare infrastructure might fail to absorb the influx. But 24 months in, a number of new clinics near Illinois' state lines have opened, and the state has invested over $23M into expanding access to abortions and reproductive healthcare.

Protesters gathered around the Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C., the day after a draft majority opinion overturning Roe v. Wade leaked May 3, 2022.

Nowhere saw more out-of-state patients from more states than Illinois did in 2023, according to the Guttmacher Institute. Some 37,300 patients traveled to Illinois for abortions, compared to just 8,500 in 2019, and out-of-staters now make up 41% of all procedures in the state.

Planned Parenthood of Illinois, which sprang into action early, has seen abortion-care patients from 41 states across the country since the overturning of Roe v. Wade. This is about a quarter of its patients — up from 3% to 5% before the decision.

PPIL saw that restricted abortion access was a huge possibility before the Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization decision came down, said Julie Uhal, Securing Access For Everyone abortion expansion program manager at PPIL. Given projections that indicated Illinois was likely to be a haven state for the entire Midwest, the organization built out its infrastructure to help absorb increased demand, including opening the Carbondale Health Center in December 2023. 

PPIL’s Carbondale clinic, at the southern tip of Illinois, has seen scores of patients traveling to receive abortion care. 91% of all abortion patients traveled to the center from outside of Illinois, including from 16 different states, Uhal said. Additionally, two other clinics have opened in Carbondale over the past two years: the Choices Center for Reproductive Health and the Alamo Women’s Clinic. 

PPIL has also seen an uptick in out-of-state patients at the Flossmoor clinic, which is near the eastern border of the state, and in Waukegan, which is on the north end of the state, Uhal said. 

“Having that access point geographically close enough is super impactful,” Uhal said.

In addition to offering an option for women in restricted states, there is evidence that the clinics that have opened or expanded along the state’s borders are having some economic impact.

In Waukegan, locally collected hotel and motel taxes and the city’s food and beverage tax have rebounded from the pandemic and are projected to show increases of 28% and 5%, respectively, according to the city’s 2024-25 budget.

In Carbondale, the town’s chamber of commerce hadn’t discerned the economic impact of the boom, but some residents told USA Today in 2023 that it likely gave at least some boost to restaurants, gas stations and hotels, at least one of which offered a discount to clinic clients.

Average daily hotel rates and occupancy were up more than 7% in 2023 over the previous year in the six-county area near the three Carbondale clinics, Cory Jobe of the Great Rivers and Routes Tourism Bureau told Politico.

“And there wasn’t a major event besides NASCAR that drove demand,” Jobe said.

After the Dobbs decision came out, PPIL was flooded with calls filled with confusion about what happened and if abortion was still legal anywhere, Uhal said. In the evolving landscape since, determining the actual status of abortion care in a given state has gotten even more complicated and difficult, Uhal said. 

To demystify the process for people with less information, PPIL aims to have as much comprehensive and forward-facing information as possible online, Uhal said. 

“The confusion is always a part of the plan,” she said. 

PPIL also has a team of people who help patients navigate the logistical and travel barriers out-of-state patients may face when trying to get to the state’s clinics. The team purchases hotel rooms, flights and train tickets on behalf of patients by coordinating with funding partners. The Chicago Abortion Fund provides about $880 on average to each patient seeking an abortion in Illinois — up from around $545 in 2022 — financed by donations and city and state grants, according to The New York Times.

Big events in Chicago, like when Beyonce came to the city last summer, spike hotel room costs, which has a major impact on people’s ability to travel for abortion care, Uhal said

With political uncertainty surrounding abortion access on the federal level and an upcoming presidential election in November, Uhal said PPIL will continue to work to widen its accessibility and keep in contact with its national office to continue to monitor the environment. 

“The bottom line is that PPIL is always going to be here for patients, no matter what their ZIP code is, what their income level is,” Uhal said. “We are always doing the best that we can to expand the capacity of how many appointments we’re able to see, to reduce our wait times for those appointments and make it as accessible as possible, no matter what.”