RH Reality Check has partnered with the American Civil Liberties Union (National and Illinois offices) to bring you stories from a reproductive health road trip undertaken to learn directly from people in the state about the obstacles they face in accessing basic care. This article is one in the series; other articles forthcoming will provide more in-depth information on the stories collected from women and men in need of sexual and reproductive health care. Read the earlier pieces here and here.
It was a beautiful morning. We passed trucks carrying squash and trucks carrying cows. We saw endless fields of corn along I-55, and hundreds of wind farms popping up across the countryside. And we felt good – glad of the work we had accomplished over the 11 day road trip, and glad to be returning home to our families and our own beds.
Then we hit the first construction zone. And then another. We stopped for gas, and ran into another traffic jam. We stopped at the Cozy Dog Drive Inn in Springfield, in the hopes that a lunch break would lead to clearer roads ahead.
But it didn’t. If anything, there was more construction on I-55 north of Springfield than south of it. Near Bloomington the traffic slowed to a standstill. We pulled off at the nearest rest stop and switched drivers.
It didn’t seem to help. As we approached the Chicago outskirts, we hit bottlenecks and stopped still in traffic. “Construction next 2 miles” signs became “Construction next 8 miles.” It was incredibly frustrating to face so many roadblocks, when all we wanted was to be at home after 11 days on the road.
But then, roadblocks and obstacles were the persistent, never-ending theme of our entire voyage – so perhaps it was only appropriate that we faced a few ourselves on the road home.
Every place we visited in Illinois–from Rockford to Carbondale, and from the Quad Cities to Champaign-Urbana–revealed that people in Illinois face numerous obstacles in accessing reproductive health services and information. Kids aren’t learning how to make healthy decisions and protect themselves, women can’t reliably get access to birth control, emergency contraception or abortion, and those who decide to parent or place their infant for adoption cannot find the support they need to facilitate those decisions.
I want to focus, however, on one particularly disturbing obstacle that was mentioned in city after city: doctors refusing to care for women who have had abortions. Mind you, these are not doctors refusing to perform abortions. What we heard, in three separate communities, was that there are doctors who refuse to perform routine post-abortion check-ups or even to provide care for completely unrelated ailments to women who previously had abortions. What’s worse, in two instances we heard that these doctors were some of the few who were accepting Medicaid patients at all – meaning that poor women would have to face greater obstacles to receive needed medical care. In one instance, we heard of a doctor throwing a patient’s medical records on the ground and storming out after he learned she had had an abortion.
Doctors are, of course, entitled to their own personal beliefs. But doctors also have an obligation not to let those beliefs interfere with their patients’ access to medical care. Patients shouldn’t be turned away simply because the doctor disapproves of the personal decisions the patient and her family have made – especially in places like rural Illinois where a doctor’s refusal to see a patient can mean a long wait to find another provider and a long distance to travel to get the care she needs.
In the end, Khadine and I overcame our obstacles and arrived home Friday after 2,573 miles and 11 days on the road. We hope the information we gathered will help others in Illinois overcome the obstacles they face in accessing reproductive health care and information. We will continue to share their stories in the weeks ahead.