Planned Parenthood Opens Carbondale Clinic Amid Influx of Out-of-State Patients Seeking Abortions

(WTTW News)(WTTW News)

A new abortion clinic opened in Carbondale Tuesday — the physical manifestation of years of preparation by Planned Parenthood of Illinois for the post-Roe world that was realized in June 2022 with the U.S. Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision.

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“We looked at the map and we knew that it was the best possible town in southern Illinois to serve the whole southern Illinois community, and it also is a great location for the surrounding states — none of which have access to abortion,” said Planned Parenthood of Illinois CEO Jennifer Welch. “It’s relatively easy to get to for our neighbors in Kentucky and Tennessee, and it even has a direct train line from New Orleans.”

Carbondale, population 21,717 and home to Southern Illinois University, is a five-hour drive from Chicago but a mere hour from the state’s southernmost city, Cairo.

The Carbondale Health Center offers a full range of reproductive and other services, including testing for sexually transmitted infections, HIV treatment, birth control and gender-affirming care.

An influx of out-of-state patients has come to Illinois for abortions since the Dobbs ruling.

According to a Guttmacher Institute report from September, the number of abortions performed in Illinois has increased by 69% since the end of Roe.

Illinois Department of Public Health data shows 51,797 Illinois abortions in 2021; Welch said Planned Parenthood has served patients from 40 states, and a quarter of its clientele come from outside Illinois.

“We’ve really been preparing for the post-Roe world for five years,” Welch said. “We opened in Flossmoor near the Indiana border, Waukegan near the Wisconsin border. We doubled the size of our Champaign health center, which is right down the road from Indianapolis. So we really have been building for this moment.”

The Flossmoor center opened in 2018 and Waukegan in 2020; the Champaign expansion was announced in 2022. Planned Parenthood also moved to a larger space in Chicago’s Loop last year.

The growth isn’t just in brick-and-mortar locations.

In the wake of the Dobbs ruling, Planned Parenthood has hired more staff, increased telehealth services and implemented a new patient records system.

Mary FioRito, a fellow with the Washington D.C.-based Ethics and Public Policy Center, a thinktank focused on folding traditional Christian and Jewish values into modern policy, said the spike in abortions and the added clinics are evidence of misplaced priorities.

FioRito said Illinois’ focus on protecting the right to an abortion “is masquerading as something that’s good for us (women) and it’s not.”

“It makes me really sad that in Illinois this is the best we can offer women,” FioRito said. “And we’re not offering things like extended maternity leave.”

Abortions, she said, are viewed as a “cheap, quick-fix solution” that in actuality are acts of desperation that result in letting businesses off the hook for caring for and accommodating pregnant women.

Planned Parenthood of Illinois’ building boom is over for now. Welch said the organization has no plans for additional health centers.

“We are going to focus on these locations,” Welch said. “This means that we have health centers from the northern border in Waukegan all the way down to the southern border in Carbondale. And now it’s a matter of getting patients to the care that they need that is best for them.”

Still, one more clinic is expected to open in the first half of 2024: the facility in Peoria, which has been closed since it was firebombed 11 months ago. At the time, Welch estimated repairs would cost more than $1 million.

WGLT reported in August that 32-year-old Tyler Massengill of Chillicothe was sentenced to 10 years after pleading guilty to arson for the Jan. 15 firebombing.

“I feel like that one comes with a special vengeance for me,” Welch said. “That offender cost his community thousands and thousands of patient visits for essential care.”

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