Madison group’s plans to provide abortions in Rockford, Illinois, take shape | National News

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A Madison doctor has bought two clinic buildings in Rockford, Illinois, with plans to offer pill abortions at one site as early as this week and surgical abortions at the other within six months.

The moves come after the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last month overturning federal abortion rights, which led abortion providers in Wisconsin to halt procedures as courts determine whether the state’s 1849 law banning nearly all abortions stands.

Dr. Dennis Christensen, an obstetrician-gynecologist who has provided abortions in Madison and Milwaukee and is now mostly retired, said he is part of a group trying to revive abortion services in Rockford to serve women in that area and from Wisconsin.

Abortion remains legal in Illinois, where Christensen said some clinics have waiting lists as patients from Wisconsin and other surrounding states with abortion bans seek procedures. Abortion is also legal in Minnesota.

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“We feel like it’s absolutely essential for us to get open as quickly as possible,” said Jeanne Bissell, of Fitchburg, president of the newly formed Rockford Family Planning Foundation, which is preparing the second site in Rockford for surgical abortions and other care.

Last month, Christensen purchased a former acupuncture office at 611 Auburn Street for $75,000 and the former Animal Emergency Clinic of Rockford at 4236 Maray Drive for $350,000, according to the Winnebago County Recorder’s Office in Illinois.

Christensen said he plans to offer medication abortions, involving the pills mifepristone and misoprostol, at the Auburn site as soon as Friday. He said the plans were delayed after the city of Rockford condemned the building following an inspection, leaving a note citing an “open sewer.” Anti-abortion activists have protested outside of the building.

Christensen said Tuesday the situation seems to be resolved. Nelson Sjostrom, Rockford’s building code official, said Tuesday that permits for work at the property have been pulled but follow-up inspections for compliance haven’t been conducted yet.

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Bissell, a former board member of Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin, said she and others with the new Rockford foundation are trying to raise more than $500,000 to hire staff and prepare the Maray site to house the Rockford Family Planning Center.

She said the facility, expected to open in three to six months, will provide surgical and pill abortions, along with birth control, testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections and related care.

Many of the patients expected to use the clinic have low incomes, she said. Financial support will be available, such as from the Women’s Medical Fund, which has helped pay for abortions since 1972, including for 1,500 people last year.

“We’re not going to turn anybody away,” Bissell said.

Christensen said the Auburn site might close or stay open when the Maray site opens, depending on demand.

Dr. Douglas Laube, who performed abortions at Planned Parenthood in Madison and is former chair of obstetrics and gynecology at UW-Madison, is also part of the group working with Christensen, Bissell and others on plans to offer abortions in Rockford.

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Christensen, who for many years provided abortions in Madison, also operated the Northern Illinois Women’s Center in Rockford for several years, selling it in 2010. Two years later, it closed.

More recently, Christensen, who lives in Madison, has owned Affiliated Medical Services in Milwaukee. Until the Supreme Court ruling last month, Affiliated was one of three places in Wisconsin providing elective surgical abortions, along with Planned Parenthood clinics on Madison’s East Side and in Milwaukee.

Planned Parenthood also provided pill abortions in Sheboygan, and some hospitals performed abortions if the fetus has a lethal condition or the mother’s life is at risk.

Risk to the mother’s life is the only exception to Wisconsin’s abortion ban adopted in 1849, the year after the territory became a state. Late last month, Democratic Gov. Tony Evers and Attorney General Josh Kaul filed a lawsuit challenging the law, arguing that 1980s statutes supersede the ban and it as been dormant so long it should be unenforceable.

District attorneys in Dane and Milwaukee counties have suggested they won’t enforce the law, while the Sheboygan County DA said he would. Republicans vying to run against Evers this fall have said they would fire DAs that don’t enforce the ban.

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July 13, 2022 at 07:35AM

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