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New abortion clinic to open in southern Illinois with plans to serve Kentucky, other states

Downtown Carbondale, Illinois in 2017.
Paul Sableman
Downtown Carbondale, Illinois in 2017.

A Tennessee abortion provider announced earlier this week it was opening a new location in southern Illinois that would serve people seeking abortions from surrounding states, including Kentucky, that could see the possibility of abortion bans enforced later this year.

CHOICES Memphis Center for Reproductive Health Executive Director Jennifer Pepper said the abortion provider decided to open a new clinic in Carbondale, Illinois, providing abortion procedures, in part, to serve surrounding states where abortion could be effectively outlawed in the future. The new location would also provide gender-affirming care and eventually other services with a planned opening in August.

A preliminary U.S. Supreme Court opinion was leaked last week showing a majority of justices striking down the Roe v. Wade ruling from 1973 that established federal protections for abortion access. Kentucky and 12 other states have “trigger laws” that would effectively ban abortion procedures shortly following a U.S. Supreme Court ruling striking down the ruling.

Illinois’s Democratic governor in 2019 signed a sweeping bill into law codifying abortion access in the state. Pepper said Carbondale’s location in southern Illinois that’s closer to other states could mean shorter driving distances for people seeking abortions, including Carbondale’s access to an Amtrak train line stretching from New Orleans to Chicago.

“Folks understand the moment in time that we’re in, and that Illinois is going to be a lifeline for folks throughout the south for abortion access,” Pepper said. “There will be more demand than there is access.”

Pepper said, with Tennessee also having a “trigger law” to ban abortion following a potential U.S. Supreme Court ruling, their Memphis location will most likely stop performing abortions but still provide other services. Carbondale, Illinois, is about a little more than a three-hour drive from Memphis and about a three-and-a-half-hour drive from Louisville, where Kentucky’s only abortion provider is located. Other abortion clinics in Illinois are located near St. Louis and Chicago.

Planned Parenthood Alliance Advocates in Kentucky spokesperson Nicole Erwin said Kentuckians seeking abortions would have to travel on average nearly 250 miles one-way – compared to 70 miles under the current legal status – if a total abortion ban was implemented in the state, citing data from a pro-abortion-rights research group Guttmacher Institute.

While Erwin said more abortion providers are needed, the lengthy travel to “blue states” like Illinois that those seeking abortions will have to tackle is unsustainable.

“Clinics in these states are already completely formed with patients unable to get in. So this is not a solution,” Erwin said. “Everyone deserves access to abortion care in their zip code, and their income shouldn't be something that keeps them from getting that.”

Leadership of a prominent anti-abortion advocacy group in Kentucky called the announcement of the new southern Illinois clinic disappointing but not surprising. Kentucky Right to Life Executive Director Addia Wuchner said her organization plans to continue their advocacy efforts and continue to support Kentucky lawmakers that protect anti-abortion policies.

“I think where we work to make a difference is through education, advocating, and making sure that women who have an untimely pregnancy or an unplanned pregnancy have access to pregnancy care centers or information,” Wuchner said.

Wuchner said it was “very sad” that Democratic Illinois Gov. J.P. Pritzker is backing laws that end “the lives of children” but that each state’s policies on abortion access are up to each state to decide.

"Liam Niemeyer is a reporter for the Ohio Valley Resource covering agriculture and infrastructure in Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia and also serves Assistant News Director at WKMS. He has reported for public radio stations across the country from Appalachia to Alaska, most recently as a reporter for WOUB Public Media in Athens, Ohio. He is a recent alumnus of Ohio University and enjoys playing tenor saxophone in various jazz groups."
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