Doctors from Wisconsin, where abortion is severely restricted, are commuting to Waukegan to perform the procedure for patients

Planned Parenthood organizations from Wisconsin and Illinois are collaborating to expand access at a clinic in Waukegan so it could handle an increase in patients from north of the border.

SHARE Doctors from Wisconsin, where abortion is severely restricted, are commuting to Waukegan to perform the procedure for patients
A Planned Parenthood clinic at 1601 N. Lewis Ave. in Waukegan.

A Planned Parenthood clinic at 1601 N. Lewis Ave. in Waukegan.

Lynn Sweet/Sun-Times

Planned Parenthood doctors who have stopped performing abortions in Wisconsin have begun traveling to Waukegan to serve their patients, who must travel outside the Badger State to receive an abortion in nearly all cases.

Nurses, midwives, clinicians and other support staff began commuting from Wisconsin to a Planned Parenthood of Illinois clinic in Waukegan — which is less than 20 miles from the Wisconsin border — last week to help provide abortion services in the event of increased demand.

The partnership between Planned Parenthood groups in each state was announced Thursday morning during a virtual news conference.

Abortion became severely restricted in Wisconsin last month, after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned guaranteed access to abortion and the state reverted back to a 173-year-old law on the books that banned abortion except to save the life of the pregnant person.

Under Wisconsin’s current law, there are no exceptions for rape or incest, but the wording of the 19th century statute has led to confusion for doctors — and calls by groups opposed to abortion for lawmakers to further tighten the law to remove or reword the current exception, as well as to specifically ban medication abortions.

Four Planned Parenthood locations in Wisconsin — in Madison, Sheboygan and Milwaukee — previously provided abortions.

Kristen Schultz, chief strategy and operations officer for Planned Parenthood of Illinois, said she was pleasantly surprised after reaching out to doctors to see if they’d be interested in commuting to Waukegan to help provide abortion care for an expected flood of patients from Wisconsin who would need to seek abortions out of state.

“I thought there’d be four, maybe five; instead, the majority have stepped up,” she said, adding that the same goes for support staff.

Tanya Atkinson, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin, said she is not concerned that doctors or staff from Wisconsin will face prosecution in their home state.

“The statute criminalizes providers in Wisconsin,” she said. “We’ve had a lot of legal review.”

Wisconsin’s Democratic Gov. Tony Evers has promised clemency to any doctor convicted of violating the state’s ban.

Dr. Allison Linton, associate medical director of Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin and one of the doctors who plans to commute to Illinois to perform abortions, called the Supreme Court ruling and resulting abortion ban in Wisconsin “both terrifying and heartbreaking.”

“Planned Parenthood believes everyone should have the freedom and power to control their own bodies and lives,” she said.

“Patient Navigation Teams” in both states will help patients seeking an abortion through Planned Parenthood secure transportation using funds provided, in part, by other nonprofit groups.

Wisconsin’s 22 Planned Parenthood locations, which provide an array of medical services, will remain open.

Jennifer Welch, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Illinois, said the two groups have been collaborating for years and came together quickly in the past three months to sort out details after it became clear that the Supreme Court was moving to overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark decision that cemented the right to abortion for more than 50 years.

Planned Parenthood, a nonprofit, is the nation’s leading provider of affordable sexual and reproductive health care, as well as the nation’s largest provider of sex education, and has more than 600 health centers across the country.

The number of patients traveling from Wisconsin to Illinois health centers to receive abortions has increased tenfold since Roe v. Wade was overturned, according to a Planned Parenthood spokeswoman, who said the organization doesn’t release specific numbers.

Before the Supreme Court ruling, Planned Parenthood of Illinois scheduled about 100 out-of-state abortions per month, but in the week after the decision, 750 abortions were scheduled.

“Those aren’t all from Wisconsin, but it gives you an idea of the big increase in the volume,” the spokeswoman said.

Contributing: AP

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