While I am excited for President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris to usher in a progressive agenda, the crushingly repressive regime that was in place for the last four years won’t disappear overnight. Despite the significant gains made in health care access under the Affordable Care Act, the federal policies put in place by the Trump administration paired with decreased federal funding have significantly eroded equal access to health care. The people most affected by these restrictions are low-income, people of color, and undocumented folks who already face systemic barriers to care due to racist and discriminatory policies, both past and present.
For decades now, some of Illinois’ neighboring states have been chipping away at abortion access with the goal of pushing safe and legal abortion out of reach all together. If Roe v. Wade were to be overturned by the current Supreme Court, several of our neighbors have trigger laws that would ban abortion immediately, forcing people to travel longer distances to receive urgent, essential health care and further straining Illinois reproductive health care providers.
Yet this Court has shown they can deprive women of the protection of Roe v. Wade without using the word “overruled”. Its recent decision to reinstate a medically unnecessary barrier to medication abortion during the COVID-19 pandemic is another reminder of how tenuous our grip on reproductive rights is.
Health care providers like Planned Parenthood of Illinois (PPIL) play a key role in expanding access by offering comprehensive reproductive and sexual health care to all who need it regardless of race, religion, sex, language, or national or social origin. Every year, we provide essential health care such as cervical cancer screenings, annual wellness exams, birth control, STI testing and treatment, and abortions to more than 70,000 patients statewide.
For access to this comprehensive health care to be meaningful it must be funded without regard to a patient's ability to pay. However, in 2019, the new Domestic Gag Rule enacted by the Trump administration forced Planned Parenthood out of the Title X family planning program. This significant loss placed unexpected burdens on safety net providers like PPIL, forcing us to seek new funding opportunities to offset these losses so that we could continue to provide uninterrupted access to the care our patients rely on and deserve.
While Illinois remains a haven state in the Midwest, the reality is that reproductive rights face increasing threats no matter what actions President Biden and Vice President Harris take. And that is why it is incumbent upon us all to ensure that Illinois remains a haven by supporting organizations like PPIL that provide these essential services.
Emily Nicklin is the Board Chair of Planned Parenthood of Illinois.