With newly installed outdoor security cameras and buzz-in entry system, Planned Parenthood Springfield plans to begin offering elective abortions this month through the use of drugs that let women complete the procedure at home.
Hundreds of patients each year are expected to seek the $435 service - which Planned Parenthood calls "medication abortion" - from the organization's clinic at 1000 E. Washington St., said Stephani Cox, a nurse practitioner who is the downstate lead clinician for Chicago-based Planned Parenthood of Illinois.
"It's a legal service," she said. "I'm hoping that women in the area who need this service will quickly realize that they can get it locally."
More than 400 women from the Springfield area obtain abortions each year, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health. But until now, area residents had to drive at least 90 minutes to abortion providers in Peoria, Champaign, Granite City and St. Louis.
Cox, who has worked for Planned Parenthood in downstate Illinois for 17 years, said she is relieved that area women will have a more convenient option.
"I have seen so many women just devastated that they have to travel," she said. "I just know it's very burdensome for some women, especially women with small children already, or who can't get off work."
Medication abortions involve pills containing mifepristone, originally called RU-486, which is handed to the patient and swallowed at the clinic, and misoprostol, which is taken at home. The entire process, described as similar to what women experience in a miscarriage, takes 24 to 48 hours.
Illinois law allows adolescents to receive abortions and other reproductive health services without parental notification or permission, although Cox expects most patients seeking abortions at the Springfield clinic to be in their early 20s.
Planned Parenthood will provide financial aid to poor women needing the service, and no one will be turned away for inability to pay or lack of health insurance coverage, said Beth Kanter, the organization's senior vice president of external affairs.
Because of the financial assistance it provides, Planned Parenthood, which also provides abortion services in Champaign and the Chicago area, doesn't make money on abortions, Kanter said.
Springfield's Planned Parenthood clinic began to receive phone calls from women seeking appointments for abortions right after its plans were announced in September, Cox said.
The clinic will schedule appointments for medication abortions through the ninth week of pregnancy and provide the service fewer than five times a month at first, she said. The number of days could be expanded based on demand, she said.
The specific days won't be publicized to anyone other than patients making appointments, mainly to make it more difficult for abortion opponents to organize protests outside the clinic, Kanter said.
Shirley Caldwell Smith, president of Springfield Right to Life, said that group is considering holding a once-a-month protest at Planned Parenthood, However, Smith said local protesters won't attempt to block entry to the parking lot or confront patients as they walk to the clinic's doors.
New medical equipment for the clinic and additional security measures, including a system in which all patients and visitors must display photo IDs before the entry door is unlocked, cost Planned Parenthood $20,000, Kanter said.
More than 90 percent of the men and women who use Planned Parenthood clinics in Springfield and elsewhere go there to obtain health services such as medical examinations, birth control pills and other forms of contraception, Cox said.
"We're trying to prevent the need for abortion," she said.
Dean Olsen can be reached at 788-1543.
Right to Life: Announcement 'energized' community
Planned Parenthood's announcement last fall that it planned to offer medication abortions in Springfield has energized Springfield's anti-abortion community, said Shirley Caldwell Smith, president of Springfield Right to Life.
More than 100 people turned out for a prayer vigil Jan. 22 outside the Planned Parenthood clinic, she said. The vigil was sponsored by Springfield Right to Life and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield.
The local Right to Life group also paid for a one-minute-long radio commercial that aired 310 times from December to January. It encouraged people to "pray about Planned Parenthood's plans to provide abortions in Springfield.
The ad, still available on the Right to Life Web site (www.srtl.org), begins with a baby crying and says Planned Parenthood is bringing a "poison pill" and "human pesticide" to Springfield. An announcer in the ad says RU-486's side effects are "potentially life-threatening to the mother."
Stephani Cox, the downstate lead clinician for Planned Parenthood of Illinois, said the ad misrepresents the facts about medication abortion, which she said has been proven to be safe and effective.
Smith wouldn't say how much her group raised to produce and broadcast the ads, but she said more advertising and educational efforts are planned.
The group also is considering a monthly, organized protest on the sidewalk outside Planned Parenthood. However, Smith said protesters won't attempt to block entry to the clinic or parking or to intervene with patients.
"We're a peaceful, law-abiding pro-life community," she said. "Though there's violence going on in the abortion clinics, we don't support violence."
Planned Parenthood officials said they have notified Springfield police about plans to begin offering abortions, but city spokesman Ernie Slottag wouldn't say whether any additional police will be present on days when medication abortion pills are provided.
"We will keep an eye on it and take appropriate action when necessary," he said.
Cox said she doesn't expect any problems.
"Ninety-nine percent of them (protesters) have been very respectful," she said. "They're there to express their opinion, which is fine and legal."
Dean Olsen can be reached at 788-1543.
Medicaid abortions in Illinois
A bill backed by Planned Parenthood in the Illinois General Assembly would remove restrictions on when low-income women could receive abortions paid for by the state's Medicaid program.
House Bill 6205, sponsored by House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie, D-Chicago, is expected to be considered by a House committee later this month.
"The issue is equity," said Pam Sutherland, vice president of public policy for Planned Parenthood of Illinois. Private insurance plans commonly cover elective abortions as well as abortions required to protect the health of the mother, Sutherland said.
Poor women covered by Medicaid, a public insurance program for certain low-income individuals, deserve the same coverage, she said.
Currie's proposal passed a House committee last year but didn't receive a full vote in the state House or Senate. It is opposed by a variety of pro-life groups.
The bill also would require all public schools to provide comprehensive, age-appropriate sex education.
Getting the General Assembly to pass the proposal will be tough, Currie said, but she called it a "solid piece of legislation."
There were 383 Medicaid-funded abortions in Illinois in fiscal 2007, 368 in fiscal 2008 and 116 in fiscal 2009, according to the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services.
- Dean Olsen
Medication abortion in Springfield
What: Pills containing the drugs mifepristone (RU-486) and misoprostol, which induce an abortion at home, will be offered for the first time in Springfield beginning this month. Medication abortions were approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2000, and can be offered only until the 63rd day of pregnancy in the first trimester.
Where: Appointment-only at Planned Parenthood of Illinois' Springfield health center at 1000 E. Washington St.
Cost: $435, but financial assistance is available so no one will be turned away. Private insurance plans often cover both medication abortion and surgical abortion.
Process: The 1 1/2-hour visit includes a sonogram, counseling session, and medication handed to them by a nurse practitioner. Patients are given a 24-hour phone number, staffed by experienced doctors and nurses, that patients can call if they experience symptoms of complications. Patients also return for follow-up visits.