Protecting and Expanding Abortion Access: An Action Plan

The importance of abortion access: my family’s perspective

I have always been a strong supporter of a woman’s right to choose whether to have an abortion. I firmly believe that women should have the right to make their own decisions about healthcare without interference from the government.   My personal family experience has always informed my strong pro-choice views.

 

Childhood-onset Tay Sachs disease is a horrible genetic illness which stops nerves from working properly and usually leads to death by the age of five.  In the child, development slows and muscles begin to weaken – often leading to seizures, vision loss, hearing loss, paralysis, and lung infections before death.  The disease was most common in children of Jewish descent.  However, the reason this disease is now very rare in my community is because of information, education, access to genetic testing and access to abortion.

 

Unfortunately, other deeply destructive genetic diseases still exist.  It is crucial that a woman carrying a fetus with a destructive genetic disease have a choice – informed by doctors not dictated by politicians – about whether to terminate their pregnancy.

 

My two sons have the gene for Huntington’s Chorea, the devastating and incurable neurological disease that killed their father.  This means that at some point in the future their mental acuity will decline. Their motor skills will deteriorate.  They may die in the prime of life – as their father did – or later on.

 

My five year old grandson will experience the deaths of his father and his uncle.  But he will never have Huntington’s disease himself thanks to the genetic screening and informed health care – the type anti-choice politicians would deny us – that his parents received before he was born.

 

I am heartened that women who need an abortion and cannot have one where they live can come to Chicago.  Kind and brave volunteers often escort these women past angry protesters who are fueled with misinformation by anti-choice politicians.  But politicians should never be able to condemn other people’s children to suffer with devastating genetic diseases. My personal experience and knowledge of how abortion access can protect families drives me to take action.  It is our collective responsibility to make sure that these politicians do not succeed and this action plan will help protect abortion access for those who need it.

 

-Rebecca Janowitz

Action Plan

  • Protect Those Seeking and Providing Abortions
    1. Protecting patients who seek abortions
    2. Protecting providers who perform abortions
  • Expand Capacity and Improve Access
    1. Increasing accessibility with more funding
    2. Reducing reproductive health care costs
    3. Expanding capacity to meet growing demand
  • Plan for an Uncertain Future
    1. Bringing together stakeholders to find solutions
    2. Preparing for potential legal action
    3. Researching reproductive health care needs

Protect Those Seeking and Providing Abortions

Protecting Patients Who Seek Abortions

Ensure patients are protected from potential legal action

Chicago recently passed the Bodily Autonomy Sanctuary City Ordinance, which prohibits local government, including the Chicago Police Department, from participating in any investigation or other action that would criminalize women who come to Chicago for an abortion or for other reproductive health care needs. I strongly support this measure and applaud those who helped pass it.

Because the ordinance – and the potential challenges it was enacted in order to address – is so new, the next City Council will need to ensure that it is implemented and carried out fairly, effectively, and efficiently across all bodies of local government. Furthermore, we should work with like-minded lawmakers and government officials at the county and state level to enact similar protections; and we should monitor strategies being utilized in other “sanctuary cities” and “sanctuary states” and look for additional ways to protect women, whether Chicago residents or individuals coming to our city from near and far.

Educate citizens about misleading services

Despite the fact that abortion remains safe and legal for those who need it here in Illinois and in Chicago, the fall of Roe v. Wade has led to a nationwide onslaught of misleading or outright false information from those opposed to a woman’s right to choose. As those from Chicago and from elsewhere struggle to navigate a complex system of health care services and a changing legal landscape, it is now more important than ever to provide people with accurate, helpful information on what is available.

New York City recently passed legislation to do just this, launching a public education campaign specifically targeting misleading reproductive health care facilities and services, including those that seek to limit or hide information about abortion services. We should fund a similar communication and education effort to better inform both our own citizens and those coming here from other parts of the state or from outside of Illinois, so that everyone can get the care they deserve.

Protecting Providers Who Perform Abortions

Ensure providers are protected from potential legal action

Chicago’s Bodily Autonomy Sanctuary City Ordinance provides the same protections for those providing abortion and reproductive health care services as it does for those receiving the care, but we should look for additional ways to protect, and to support, those who are providing these services in Chicago.

Several states where abortion is legal have already done just that, enacting new laws to protect providers from any potential legal action from other states; California’s new law, for example, protects medical professionals from civil liability from other states. Illinois has also considered this type of legislation, including a bill that would prevent state officials from disciplining providers who perform abortions. We should urge the state legislature to enact such legislation; and we also should explore ways we can provide additional protection as a city, including from potential legal action. 

 

Expand Capacity and Improve Access

Increasing Accessibility with More Funding

Increase funding for local reproductive health care organizations

Chicago recently committed $500,000 in Department of Public Health and Environment funding to local organizations such as the Chicago Abortion Fund and Midwest Access Coalition to provide abortion services. This is a fantastic start, but more almost certainly will be needed – in our city’s very next budget, as well as future budgets going forward. While we should closely analyze the impact this funding has on the reproductive health care services available here in Chicago, we should also commit to providing additional resources. 

Create a city-administered abortion fund

Chicago should consider creating a city-administered “abortion fund” specifically with the purpose of helping patients with costs, such as travel and lodging, associated with accessing reproductive health care services in the city. California lawmakers have introduced legislation to do just that, and New York has pledged some $35 million in aid via the state’s Department of Health. Creating a standalone fund could help ensure that adequate city resources are committed in future years.

Reducing Reproductive Health Care Costs

Eliminate out-of-pocket costs

Accessibility means little without affordability when it comes to health care. We need to do more to ensure that those who can access abortion and other reproductive health care services are actually able to afford them. Several cities and states have taken action on this issue, including California, where legislation was recently signed to eliminate all out-of-pocket costs for abortion services by providing state funding to reimburse providers; and to prohibit health insurers from charging copayments or other out-of-pocket costs associated with abortion services. Chicago should work to do the same to the extent possible as a city; and lobby state lawmakers to act at the state level as well.

Provide free medication abortion

As a step toward eliminating all out-of-pocket costs for those accessing abortion services in Chicago, the city should consider providing funding to ensure free access to medication abortion at city clinics, as New York City recently did. Doing so is a relatively affordable, but high impact, way of increasing access by improving affordability, especially at a time when there is a shortage of medical providers able to perform abortions in the state.

Expanding Capacity to Meet Growing Demand

Allow more providers to perform abortions

Chicago should urge the state to pass legislation allowing nurse practitioners and physician assistants to perform surgical abortion procedures under certain circumstances, as several other states have either recently proposed or already passed. In Illinois, these professionals can already administer medication abortion; and research has shown that expanding who can perform these procedures does not lead to any decline in quality of care. Our state is facing an overwhelming and urgent need for more medical providers at abortion clinics. We need to do all we can to meet that demand and expand our clinics’ capacity.

Plan for an Uncertain Future

Bringing Together Stakeholders to Find Solutions

Chicago should create a standing task force of policymakers, reproductive healthcare organizations, doctors and medical providers, and pro-choice advocates to ensure the city is doing all it can to prepare for potential future developments at the state and federal level that will affect the city’s ability to provide these services and meet demand while protecting patients and providers alike. For example, Illinois’s new Youth Health and Safety Act, signed into law in 2021, repealed the state’s parental notification law, but it could still be challenged in court and, potentially, repealed. We must ensure that Chicago is ready to protect the ability for Chicago’s young people to access reproductive health care should such a development occur.

Preparing for Potential Legal Action

Chicago should coordinate the creation of a collaborative legal team to both provide pro bono legal services today and develop legal strategies for tomorrow. In San Francisco, for instance, the city’s bar association teamed up with the city attorney to create the Legal Alliance for Reproductive Rights, a volunteer effort involving several local law firms to help those affected by the overturning of Roe v. Wade. Those affected by the Supreme Court ruling are often those least likely to be able to afford legal services. By working with like-minded law firms and organizations with legal expertise, we can better prepare the city for unknown legal and legislative developments down the road while also meeting this need now.

Researching Reproductive Health Care Needs

The reproductive health care needs of not only Chicago residents but, as we’ve seen recently, those who come here for those services, are always shifting. In order to be prepared for a changing landscape and sharply rising demand in our city and our state, we need examine exactly what we’re doing right, where we’re falling short, and how we can improve in providing these essential services in a time of uncertainty. The city should fund ongoing research into ways we can better play a role – whether via funding, regulations, or other methods – in meeting the needs of those in need.