With abortions no longer taking place in Wisconsin, providers in neighboring states are bracing for an influx of out-of-state patients seeking abortion care after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade on Friday.
Wisconsin’s 173-year-old abortion ban is now in effect, making abortion illegal unless the procedure is necessary to save a patient’s life. Abortion remains legal in Illinois and Minnesota. While the procedure is still legal in Michigan, where it will be for the next few months is uncertain.
Planned Parenthood of Illinois Action expects an influx of 20,000 to 30,000 or more people each year coming to the state for abortions from neighboring states, including Wisconsin.
In recent days, the organization has already helped Wisconsin patients reschedule appointments in Illinois — including at a clinic in Waukegan, about ten miles from the Wisconsin border.
“We’ve seen a very high number of Wisconsin patients in Waukegan historically,” said Kristen Schultz, the organization’s director of strategy and operations. “Now, in the next few days, the majority of patients on our abortion schedule are from Wisconsin.”
Schultz declined to provide figures on the number of Wisconsin patients seeking care. The Associated Press reported Friday that nearly 70 abortion procedures with Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin had to be canceled over the weekend.
About 6,400 abortions took place in Wisconsin in 2020, according to the most recent state data.
For many Wisconsin residents, Schultz noted that Illinois will become their closest provider.
“We estimate that there could be several thousand Wisconsin patients over the next year who will travel to Illinois for care,” Schultz said.
The organization has taken steps in recent years to expand staff, provide telehealth access to abortion services, and invest in facilities like the Waukegan clinic to meet demand.
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced in May that the city would spend about $500,000 on transportation, lodging and other expenses to help residents of neighboring states get abortions. According to the Chicago Tribune.
On Friday, Illinois Governor JB Pritzker said it would be calling a special session in the coming weeks “to more firmly protect women’s reproductive rights” in the state.
In Michigan, access to abortion could change. Like Wisconsin, a 1931 law in the state only allows abortions to preserve a patient’s life, but a temporary injunction issued in May blocks enforcement of the 91-year statute, according to the Detroit Free Press. Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer, who is running for re-election in November, said she will “fight like hell” to protect residents’ rights to make decisions about their own bodies.
On Saturday, Governor Tony Evers, who is also running for re-election, said he would offer leniency to doctors who perform abortions in Wisconsin, and Attorney General Josh Kaul said he would not use state Department of Justice resources to investigate or prosecute any person who violates the law. state ban.
Also on Saturday, Minnesota Governor Tim Walz issued an executive order to protect out-of-state residents seeking, providing, or obtaining abortions in Minnesota. The order prohibits state agencies from providing any time, information or resources that would be used to help investigate or prosecute those seeking access to abortions in Minnesota, except under a court order or other federal and Minnesota laws.
Minnesota could see up to a 371% increase in patients from nearby states, according to Asha Hassan, a graduate researcher at the Anti-Racism Research Center for Equity in Health at the University of Minnesota.
Hassan highlighted the disproportionate impact of abortion bans on low-income patients and communities of color due to a mix of factors, including lack of health care, transportation or time off from work. The SCOTUS decision also comes at a time when the country is facing a maternal mortality crisis, Hassan said.
“Wisconsin is one of the worst states for maternal mortality,” Hassan said. “When we look at the statistics, abortion is a significantly safer procedure than giving birth. If we look at the math and think about the number of people who will now be forced to give birth and become pregnant, who would have otherwise had an abortion, there will be an increase in maternal mortality.”
State data show that maternal mortality in Wisconsin was five times higher for black women than for white women from 2006 to 2010. The state also had the highest infant mortality rate in the country among black women from 2013 to 2015, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
A recent studying estimated infant mortality could rise by 21 percent for all patients nationwide and up to 33 percent for black women.
Jenny Higgins, professor and director of the Collaborative for Reproductive Equity at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said your search also showed an increase in birth rates in Wisconsin in recent years due to the closure of abortion clinics. Higgins said Wisconsin’s abortion ban will have devastating impacts on the health and well-being of people in Wisconsin.
“Both people will travel out of state for abortion assistance in Illinois and Minnesota, for example, which will take significant time, money and logistical resources,” Higgins said. “Some people will self-manage their abortions here in Wisconsin… and then, of course, some people won’t be able to access abortion care.”
In Duluth, WE Health Clinic has already begun scheduling appointments for people seeking abortions from out-of-state patients, including Texas and South Dakota. The clinic provided abortions to 87 Wisconsin patients in 2021. This represents about 19% of the 462 procedures performed last year.
The clinic’s executive director, Laurie Casey, said the clinic has now performed 50 more abortions than in the same period last year, with 284 procedures performed as of June 16.
“We see people from Wisconsin regularly, from northern Wisconsin,” Casey said. “But I think we’re starting to see people coming from mid to south Wisconsin as well.”
It’s uncertain how many out-of-state people can seek care at the clinic, but Casey said he’s heard estimates of a 25% increase in out-of-state patients. Patients who typically access services in the Twin Cities have sought appointments in Duluth due to an influx of out-of-state residents coming to Minnesota for care.
The clinic currently offers abortions one day a week. Casey said the team is preparing to ensure they have doctors available to perform the procedure, which can be offered one more day a week. The clinic would also likely supplement its part-time staff of about a dozen staff with additional nursing and reception staff, along with educators and patient escorts.
In September, the Duluth clinic also began virtually offering medical abortions, or pill-induced abortions, to people in Minnesota, Casey said. She said patients using the telehealth service must still be in Minnesota while having virtual appointments and must have a Minnesota mailing address to receive the abortion pill.
Even so, people living in border communities like Superior could make the trip to Duluth for consultations and medication.