Column: Kelly touts women’s rights as demand for abortion care surges in Flossmoor – Chicago Tribune

One of the Southland’s strongest voices in Congress visited a Planned Parenthood facility in Flossmoor Friday to talk about the importance of women’s rights and surging demand for abortion care in Illinois.

U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly, D-Matteson, said the Supreme Court’s ruling June 24 in the Dobbs case that overturned Roe v. Wade will impact Americans for generations.

“In doing so, the Supreme Court has set women’s rights back 50 years,” Kelly said. “This decision was a slap in the face, and it has opened the door for the Supreme Court to roll back the clock on all of our rights that are based on the fundamental right to privacy.”

Flossmoor has been on the front lines of the battle over abortion care since Planned Parenthood opened a facility at 19831 Governors Highway in 2018. Escorts accompany patients into the clinic, and anti-abortion demonstrators continually stage protests along the public highway.

“Since Roe was overturned in June, the number of abortion patients coming to the Flossmoor health center from out of state has tripled,” said Cristina Villarreal of Planned Parenthood of Illinois. “The vast majority of those patients are from Indiana.”

Access to abortion is restricted or prohibited in all states bordering the Land of Lincoln.

“Illinois is a haven state in the Midwest now that Roe has been overturned,” Villarreal said. “With the fall of Roe we anticipated a surge of 20,000 to 30,000 additional out of state abortion patients annually. The surge of patients is already here.”

During August, Planned Parenthood’s 17 facilities in Illinois that provide abortion care have served more out of state patients than ever before, she said.

“We expect those numbers to continue to rise,” Villarreal said.

The Dobbs ruling prompted a surge of enthusiasm among Democratic voters. The seismic shift in political sentiment was evident when Kansas voters this month resoundingly affirmed the right to access abortion care. In New York Tuesday, a Democrat upset a Republican favored to win an open congressional seat in a special election.

Democratic enthusiasm for women’s rights, President Joe Biden’s surging job approval numbers, lower gas prices and other good economic news have dimmed expectations that Republicans would reclaim majorities in the House and Senate in the November midterm elections.

“We were shaky about what would happen,” said Kelly, past chair of the Democratic Party of Illinois. “We always felt we were going to do better than people thought in November. This is helping us a little bit more.”

Signs crowd a parkway as demonstrators gather in December for a prayer vigil outside a Planned Parenthood facility in the 19800 block of Governors Highway in Flossmoor. (Ted Slowik / Daily Southtown)

Typically, Kelly said she would observe Women’s Equality Day on Aug. 26. The event commemorates the date in 1920 when U.S. Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby certified states’ ratification of the 19th Amendment that gave women the right to vote.

“This year we are turning August 26th into a women’s health day of action,” Kelly said.

For decades, conservative media have helped frame abortion as a religious and moral issue about the sanctity of life. About half the states are poised to restrict or ban abortion access, and several offer no exceptions for rape, incest or other concerns.

Overturning Roe, however, has unleashed a torrent of real-world scenarios. Women are being forced to carry nonviable fetuses because doctors fear prosecution for terminating pregnancies. Practical implications of banning abortion are largely economic and financial concerns tend to influence voters more than other considerations.

“Forced birth will push more women out of the workforce,” Kelly said. “Child care is unaffordable for so many Americans, and now even more women will have to stay home to raise families, impacting their family’s earning potential and wealth for generations to come.”

Even before the Dobbs decision, Kelly has advocated in Congress for policies and funding to help reduce the number of American women who die due to complications in childbirth.

“Black women are disproportionately impacted by maternal morbidity and mortality,” Kelly said. “Nationally, Black women die from pregnancy-related complications at two to three times the rate of white women.”

Kelly said she introduced legislation to offer a full year of postpartum Medicaid coverage in every state. The provision was included as an option in the American Rescue Plan but will expire in about four years, she said. Many states with severe abortion restrictions or bans have refused to provide the benefit to residents, she said.

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Kelly said she lobbied for the benefit during budget negotiations in Congress, a process known as reconciliation.

“I did fight to include that in reconciliation, but the men who negotiated the final deal chose not to include it,” Kelly said. “But I will not give up. Every day I am looking for ways to give that lifesaving coverage to women in every state across this country.”

Abortion is among a range of health care services Planned Parenthood offers. The Illinois organization is working with chapters from Wisconsin and other states to meet increased demand for abortion services, Villarreal said.

“We are providing abortion care to our patients regardless of where they live or how far they are forced to travel,” she said.

Kelly, 66, has represented the 2nd District of Illinois in Congress since 2013. She faces Republican former Iroquois County Board member Thomas Lynch in November.

Ted Slowik is a columnist at the Daily Southtown.

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