space traveling warriors tier list : Illinois nonprofit offers free flights to patients traveling for an abortion

A growing Illinois nonprofit has begun providing free flights aboard small passenger planes to help patients travel to their abortion appointments, a new means of accessing reproductive health care that emerged as the U.S. Supreme Court is about to take down Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 case that legalized the procedure nationwide.

The Springfield-based charity Elevated Access was incorporated in late April, according to Illinois Secretary of State records. In early June, the nonprofit took its first aborted patient from Oklahoma to the Kansas City area, allowing the passenger to terminate a pregnancy in Kansas, the organization’s executive director said.

Just days before the flight, the governor of Oklahoma had signed into law the country’s strictest abortion measure, requiring the patient to travel out of state for the procedure.

“Even before Roe is done, it’s not easy to access an abortion,” said the nonprofit’s executive director, who asked to remain anonymous for his safety, citing the growing threat of violence around reproductive rights as the decision moves forward. of the Supreme Court approaches. “While voting and giving money are important to try to stop this backsliding of people’s rights in this country, doing something directly to try and help people get out of this burden is very important to me.”

The charity recruits licensed pilots with access to light aircraft, who volunteer their time and planes to take patients to abortion clinics — trips that increasingly require long-distance travel, often across state lines.

“We know you’re already stressed,” reads the organization’s website. “We are going to alleviate some of this with a free flight from a volunteer pilot.”

Elevated Access’ executive director said he has been working on the nonprofit’s concept for more than a year with leaders from the Chicago-based Midwest Access Coalition, which provides patients traveling for abortion care with lodging, transportation, meals, rides to clinics and other logistical support.

Alison Dreith of the Midwest Access Coalition described the new transport model as a potential game-changer for some traveling patients, especially on the brink of Roe’s possible death.

“People’s lives are complicated and taking them into your care isn’t always a straight shot,” she said.

She highlights the many barriers to more conventional forms of travel: patients are sometimes too young to book a rental car. Commercial airlines, trains and buses often have limited hours or take a long time for patients who need to care for their children or cannot afford to miss an extra day of work. Traveling by car and plane has also become more expensive due to rising fuel costs, an added burden for patients who are not wealthy.

The first patient with elevated access earlier this month traveled aboard a Cirrus SR20, a four-seat single-engine propeller plane. Driving from Oklahoma City to the Kansas City area would take about 10 hours round trip, and the patient had child care restrictions that prohibited overnight travel, the executive director recalled.

Instead, the patient left the house at 8 am to get to the plane and returned at 6 pm the same day, eliminating the need for multi-day travel.

“They were able to get back to their lives and their children,” said the executive director. “It was someone who had never flown before.”

A commercial flight to and from the same two cities would cost about $900, added Dreith, who coordinated the patient’s travel with Elevated Access.

The new nonprofit works with established abortion networks to connect with patients, according to the website.

The planes typically have a single-propeller engine and can fly one to three passengers at up to 100 miles per hour, the website says. Aircraft take off and land at small, private airports, which can be more flexible in scheduling and eliminate some of the bureaucracy of commercial flights; the experience also tends to offer more privacy compared to commercial airlines, said the executive director.

“In most small airports, there is a small office where you can wait for the pilot if he is not already there to greet you,” says the website, in a passenger information section. “If someone asks what you’re doing, you say you’ll meet someone for a flight. You don’t need to tell them anything more than that. There is no security to scan your luggage or requirement to show any identification.”

Elevated Access also offers flights for patients looking gender affirming health careanother area of ​​medicine that more and more states are restricting or threatening to restrict.

Volunteers must be licensed pilots over the age of 21, with a minimum of 200 hours of flight experience and meet other standards, according to the nonprofit’s website. There are also Federal Aviation Administration requirements and regulations that govern the planes that are used.

Volunteer pilots are vetted to ensure they support the nonprofit’s mission and are required to provide references and statements about their position on abortion rights and transgender care; their social media profiles are also tracked, said the executive director.

By the end of May, more than 150 pilots across the country had expressed an interest in volunteering and about a third had completed the accreditation process, the executive director said.

Large parts of the country, particularly in the Midwest and South, already restrict abortion through gestational limits, mandatory waiting periods, and strict regulations governing providers and clinics.

Those legal hurdles are expected to become even more onerous if the Supreme Court rescinds federal abortion protections for Roe, leaving the matter to be decided by individual states. Approximately half of all states are likely to ban or nearly ban the post-Roe procedure, including nearly all Midwestern states.

The official Supreme Court decision is expected to be taken in late June or early July, but a draft opinion leaked last month indicated that most justices plan to overthrow Roe, reversing nearly half a century of reproductive freedoms.

Abortion will remain legal in Illinois, which has strong reproductive rights protections. In 2019, Governor JB Pritzker signed the Reproductive Health Act, which established abortion as a statewide fundamental right.

Illinois abortion providers anticipate a massive influx of patients traveling here for the procedure if Roe falls.

In 2020, nearly 10,000 patients crossed state lines to terminate a pregnancy in Illinois. The number of out-of-state patients has increased every year since 2014, according to the latest available data from the Illinois Department of Public Health.

“This goes beyond bodily autonomy,” said the executive director of Elevated Access. “It’s trying to help people who are really struggling with equality in our country.”

eleventis@chicagotribune.com

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