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The fight for reproductive rights isn’t over in Chicago

Years before Megan Jeyifo became a “super dope mom,” she was a scared, pregnant 16-year-old girl who had just lost her mother and felt like she couldn’t she couldn’t burden her father with the weight of what she had to do. 

Standing outside an abortion clinic in Milwaukee with $500 in loans and forged forms of parental consent during the second trimester of her pregancy, Jeyifo felt alone. 

“While I was able to get financial assistance, I didn’t get emotional support, I didn’t get affirmations,” Jeyifo said. “I was at the clinic by myself. It was just a really sh*tty experience. When everything was said and done, I didn’t feel like I did anything wrong. I didn’t feel guilty. But I knew that I was supposed to.” 

As an adult, Jeyifo began as a helpline volunteer with the Chicago Abortion Fund. Over the four years since she joined the organization, Jeyifo occasionally takes on the role of storyteller with We Testify, which is part of a national abortion fund network seeking to contextualize and normalize the reality of having an abortion. 

“I got involved primarily to make sure that other people didn’t have the same experience that I did,” said Jeyifo, now executive director of the Chicago Abortion Fund. “Because accessing care is so difficult, you start to think something’s wrong with you, versus [the] system.”

Recently, reproductive justice activists such as Jeyifo have been organizing around the country over a new Supreme Court case, June Medical Services v. Gee, which could have the potential to allow more state restrictions on access to abortion care and further weaken the landmark Roe v. Wade. 

The case centers around Louisiana’s Act 620, which requires that abortion providers have admitting privileges to a hospital within 30 miles of their clinic. 

A similar law, enacted in Texas, was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt for placing an “undue burden on a woman’s right to choose.” 

In Lousiana and Texas, district courts argued that the laws would have decreased the number of clinics and abortion providers in the state, meaning people would have had more expenses and distance to travel in search of abortion care. There would have also been a higher risk of not being treated at all. 

Steve Schwinn, professor of law at the University of Illinois at Chicago’s John Marshall Law School, said since less than 1% of abortion operations lead to emergency room visits according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, admitting privileges are unnecessary for physicians and often hard to obtain.

”What’s going on in both Texas and Louisiana is the state legislatures are trying to limit abortion procedures and run abortion providers out of business,” Schwinn said “That is going to be the certain death by a thousand cuts to Roe v. Wade, and an open invitation to other states to [place] similar kinds of restrictions on a woman’s right to an abortion.” 

In Illinois, the Reproductive Health Act was passed on June 12, 2019, ensuring individuals the fundamental right to make their own decisions surrounding contraception, sterilization, abortion and maternity care.

Ameri Klafeta, director of the Women and Reproductive Rights Project at American Civil Liberties Union Illinois, said they fought to pass the act as a safeguard against anti-abortion legislation on the federal level. 

“Illinois has really been groundbreaking in getting the reproductive health act passed, and protecting rights here in the state,” Klafeta said. 

Over 30,000 Illinois residents terminated their pregnancies in 2017, with 21,288 abortions occurring in Cook County alone according to data from the Illinois Department of Public Health.

The state of Illinois has around 25 clinics, or 1 for every 120,135 women of reproductive age, as is stated in the May 2018 Journal of Medical Internet Research. Most of these are located near Chicago. 

Emily Dreke, vice president of development and communications at the Chicago Foundation for Women, said that because of Illinois’ robust abortion protection laws, over 5,000 people traveled out of state to access abortion care last year. 

As part of the Reproductive Health Act Coalition, the foundation invested $2 million in nine organizations helping to advance and protect reproductive justice by passing the act in Illinois. 

Riley Reed, sophomore at DePaul University, has spent her time at college raising awareness about and planning rallies in support of reproductive health and certain abortion laws with other groups in the city such as the Chicago Period Project. 

Coming from liberal household where reproductive rights were supported and openly discussed, Reed said she never thought about how difficult the process could be for people until she helped her best friend terminate a pregnancy behind their parents’ backs.

“I just remember everyday [my friend] would come in so anxious and upset to school,” said Reed, a political science and peace, justice and conflict studies double major. “Seeing all of the crap women have to go through in order to be able to take care of themselves … it’s absolutely ridiculous.” 

Despite the fact that Chicago represents a relative safe haven for reproductive justice in the Midwest, Dreke said people shouldn’t grow complacent. Healthcare inequity still exists in relation to race, gender identity and class. 

“We have to remain vigilant,” Dreke said. “There’s always more to be done. As we see in other states, there’s a multitude of groups that are trying to circumvent the law or undercut laws that already exist. Reproductive justice isn’t just about having rights on paper, it’s about how women are able to access those rights in their day to day lives.”

Jeyifo said for people whose insurance has high deductibles, people who are uninsured and people who are undocumented, the Reproductive Health Act is useless in ensuring they have an equal opportunity to receive abortion care. 

 A lot of Chicagoans don’t understand their neighbors need help affording their abortion, or that minors still need to notify their parents, Jeyifo said. 

“Because the states around us are facing criminalization bills, ban bills, heartbeat bills and [targeted regulation of abortion provider] laws, people have this misconception that in Illinois it’s all butterflies and rainbows,” Jeyifo said. “Just because we have choice, that doesn’t equate to access.”

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