CHICAGO - When the car didn’t stop for the protesters and pulled up to the doors of the Planned Parenthood facility in Flossmoor Thursday, the escort asked the driver if she had an appointment or was dropping someone off.
The driver said she was a ride share driver and that she drove a patient from Lafayette, Indiana, to receive an abortion, said one of the escorts, who asked his name not be used for safety reasons.
“She told me ‘I’m the underground railroad’ and ‘thank you for being here,’” he said.
Indiana’s near total abortion ban went into effect Thursday, which means abortions in Indiana will only be allowed in cases of rape, incest, fatal fetal abnormalities and to protect the life and health of the mother. Victims of rape and incest have up to 10 weeks to get an abortion.
Although the 11 Planned Parenthood clinics in Indiana will remain open to provide reproductive health care other than abortion, officials previously said, the Planned Parenthood Flossmoor Health Center is the closest to the northwest Indiana border.
The escort said he’s worked as an escort at the facility since March. Since Indiana started debating the abortion ban law in July, he said he’s noticed an uptick in license plates from Indiana at the Flossmoor health center.
“There’ll be even more in the coming weeks. It’ll take a minute to adjust,” he said.
The number of out-of-state abortion patients at the Flossmoor health center have tripled since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, with the majority being from Indiana, said Julie Uhal, manager for the Securing Access for Everyone Abortion Expansion program at Planned Parenthood of Illinois.
Before Roe v. Wade was overturned, Planned Parenthood of Illinois would see about 100 out-of-state patients per month, Uhal said. In the first week after the Supreme Court decision, the health care system scheduled 750 out-of-state abortion appointments, she said.
“It’s really a position no one should be forced to be put in,” Uhal said.
In Indiana, there are about 1.5 million people of reproductive age who will now have to travel across state lines for care or carry unwanted or potentially dangerous pregnancies to term, according to a news release from Planned Parenthood Federation of America.
Planned Parenthood of Illinois is looking to expand abortion capacity throughout the state by working with abortion care providers in states with strict abortion laws who have expressed an interest in moving to Illinois to continue providing abortions, Uhal said.
“The reality is, Illinois has become an oasis in the desert. All of the states surrounding Illinois now have restrictions on abortion access so people will be forced to travel here at great lengths to get care,” Uhal said.
Shortly after 9 a.m., two protesters were outside the Planned Parenthood Flossmoor Health Center waving at patient’s cars as they drove in and handing out pamphlets. They stood on the curb of the street, lined with sings that read “pray to end abortion” and “life is a gift from God,” and had a crib nearby.
One of the protesters said he has come to the facility at least once a week since it opened in 2018 to let women know they have other options.
“We just want them to be aware that people are here to help them,” he said.
As patients walked from the parking lot to the entrance of the facility, the other protester walked along the property line yelling at the patient. To combat this, the escort played music from a radio.
“We are volunteers,” the escort said. “We are trying to run interference between people meddling with women’s choice.”
The escort, a retired high school teacher, said being an escort is a lot like teaching: The day can have a lot of positives, like ensuring that dozens of patients enter the facility without a problem, but when one bad thing happens it’s top of mind for the rest of the night.
“If they get one woman crying it ruins my whole day,” he said.
On a good day, he said no one takes pamphlets from the protesters or cries and everyone gets the care they need.
“The myth about it is that everyone is torn up. Not every one is torn up. Some people just want an abortion,” he said.