Clinics in neighboring states team up to provide abortion care : Shots - Health News After Wisconsin left an 1849 near-total abortion ban in place, some providers began commuting to Illinois to treat patients. These Planned Parenthood partnerships could be a model for the future.

Abortion is legal in Illinois. In Wisconsin, it's nearly banned. So clinics teamed up

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/1114647820/1116880061" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

When Roe v. Wade was overturned, Wisconsin used a state law from 1849 to ban nearly all abortions. In neighboring Illinois, abortion rights are protected. Now Planned Parenthood staffers in both states have teamed up to support patients who want an abortion, no matter which state they call home. From member station WBEZ in Chicago, Kristen Schorsch reports.

KRISTEN SCHORSCH, BYLINE: Natalee Hartwig is a nurse midwife in Wisconsin at Planned Parenthood. When Roe v. Wade fell, her clinic stopped performing abortions. Now, about two days a week, Hartwig drives at least 2 hours from her home in Madison, across the border, into Illinois. She leaves as early as 5:30 in the morning, her son still in bed, to get to the Planned Parenthood clinic in Waukegan. It's a suburb in far northern Illinois.

NATALEE HARTWIG: Luckily, it's summer. For now, he can sleep in.

SCHORSCH: Making the trek to Illinois allows her to care for abortion patients. She can't do this at home. In Waukegan, she works in the recovery room, monitoring patients and taking their vitals. And she got her license in Illinois and is trained to provide medication abortion. Even as a nurse with an advanced degree, she wasn't allowed to do this in Wisconsin when abortion was still legal. She can treat these patients virtually through telehealth visits from anywhere in Illinois.

HARTWIG: This was really just what I was always supposed to do. And there's nothing that's going to keep me from helping our patients.

SCHORSCH: The Waukegan clinic is Planned Parenthood of Illinois's busiest for out-of-state abortion patients. There's been a burst of people from Wisconsin, in particular. Within a month of Roe overturning, there was a tenfold increase in patients from Wisconsin traveling to all Planned Parenthood clinics in Illinois. What used to be 35 patients a month jumped to 350. And that doesn't include Wisconsin residents who received abortions with other providers. Planned Parenthood of Illinois prepared for this moment. They opened this clinic in Waukegan two years ago. It's about a 20-minute drive from Wisconsin border. They knew that if Roe fell, Wisconsin would largely strip away access to abortion.

(SOUNDBITE OF DEVICE BEEPING)

SCHORSCH: Inside the clinic, there are usual exam tables and ultrasound machines. There are also signs of what this space used to be, a big bank on a busy retail strip. The assistant manager, Ezra Figueroa, took me on a tour. He points out hints of the past, like the shiny vault in the break room.

EZRA FIGUEROA: Can't go inside of it. I really wish we could. But it's really cool to just have here.

SCHORSCH: More than a dozen staffers with Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin commute to Waukegan - some a few times a week, some a few days a month. Dr. Kathy King is the organization's medical director. She said, while her staff is dedicated to providing these services, it comes at a cost.

KATHY KING: It is a burden on our clinicians and nurses and medical assistants who have young children at home. It sounds great. Sure, well, I'll just travel down to Waukegan. But the logistics of that and the sacrifice of doing that on just people's day-to-day lives takes a toll.

SCHORSCH: Still, she says this sacrifice has helped. With staff from Wisconsin, the Waukegan Clinic has doubled the number of abortion appointments available. And they're still ramping up. This could be a model for other states where abortion has been further restricted. Within a month after Roe fell, dozens of clinics closed, as 11 states across the Midwest and the South implemented bans. That's according to the Guttmacher Institute, which supports abortion rights and tracks the issue. That's left providers looking for work while clinics in places like Illinois need help to care for a surge of out-of-state patients. For NPR News, I'm Kristen Schorsch in Chicago.

(SOUNDBITE OF PAUL GRANT'S "SLOW DOWN")

MARTINEZ: This story is a collaboration with WBEZ and Kaiser Health News.

(SOUNDBITE OF PAUL GRANT'S "SLOW DOWN")

Copyright © 2022 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.