LISTEN: In Chicago, women have been preparing for Roe to be overturned while still fighting back since May

Abortion rights rally
A crowd of protesters marches through downtown Chicago on May 7 to protest the potential overturning of Roe v. Wade. (Jane Vaughan/MEDILL)

By Jane Vaughan
Medill Reports

In May, a draft decision from the Supreme Court of the United States was leaked, revealing the court had voted to overturn the landmark 1973 ruling Roe v. Wade, which gave women the right to access an abortion without government restriction. Then, on June 24, the Supreme Court voted 6-3 to reverse Roe. Chicagoans took to the streets after the official decision was released, as they had been since May.

Note: This story was reported in late May, before the Supreme Court voted to reverse Roe v. Wade on June 24. 


In early May, a draft majority opinion from the Supreme Court revealed that the court has voted to reverse Roe v. Wade. The landmark 1973 ruling gave women the right to access an abortion without government restriction. 


Since then, protests have sprung up across Chicago. Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker attended one on May 7, organized by the Party for Socialism and Liberation in Chicago. 


Tape of PRITZKER: Thank you, everybody, for coming out today and saying loud and clear that we will not go backwards. [Cheers.] Bringing pro-choice and pro-women advocates together today to make our voices heard. This is just the beginning of a tsunami of angry and determined women and allies. [Cheers.] 


Attending rallies like these, it’s easy to look at the reproductive rights movement as a wave, crowds of people coming together to create change. But when we break those crowds down into individuals, the ways that people have responded to the news are mixed. 


MICHELLE KOLOSSO: My name is Michelle Kolosso. And I’m a clinician at Planned Parenthood.


Michelle Kolosso is, you could say, doing something about this. She’s worked at Planned Parenthood for eight years, providing reproductive and sexual healthcare, including medication abortions. 


And ever since the Supreme Court draft decision was leaked, Planned Parenthood Illinois has been preparing. Michelle says they have already seen an increase in out-of-state patients, from 4% to 8%, since September. That was when Texas outlawed abortions after six weeks of pregnancy. 


Michelle says her out-of-state patients are really worried about the political situation. 


KOLOSSO: For many of the patients that are coming from out-of-state, this means that if they’re not able to access services in their own ZIP code, that often means that they’re having a lot of additional expenses, which can delay their care, as well as the expense of travel, needing to find time off of work for additional travel, and potentially childcare. So patients coming from out-of-state often face a lot more barriers to care. 


If Roe is overturned, abortion will likely be restricted in states surrounding Illinois. As a result, Midwesterners and others in need of care would flock to the state. Planned Parenthood Illinois is preparing by increasing its physical infrastructure, building health centers, and expanding its telehealth options. 


KOLOSSO: We are anticipating with similar legislation in other states with restricting abortion access that we will likely be seeing 20 times the number of out-of-state patients.


Twenty times the number of out-of-state patients. And the outlook for patients seeking abortions in nearby states does not look good. Oklahoma’s governor recently signed a law, effective immediately, that bans abortions from the moment of fertilization. If Roe v. Wade is overturned, a so-called “trigger law” would go into effect in Missouri, banning abortions in most cases. And Republican leaders in Indiana have voiced support for banning abortions in their state. 


So, Michelle has no misgivings about what the future holds. 


KOLOSSO: We know that Roe is going to be overturned. That’s the general feeling. And we’ve prepared ourselves for that eventuality. 


Roll music


Olivia Matthews is a 25-year-old living in Chicago. Unlike Michelle, she’s struggling to understand what to do after reading about the draft decision. 


OLIVIA MATTHEWS: It was pretty devastating, but it’s difficult because I don’t know how much we can do about it. I don’t know what I can do. Like, no matter what they decide, it’s the Supreme Court. So… I don’t believe that I have the individual power to change what they decide.


She didn’t feel safe riding the CTA to attend protests downtown, so she hasn’t attended any rallies. And, she couldn’t even lobby her representatives, since abortion is already legal in Illinois. Gov. Pritzker has promised that abortion will continue to be safe and legal in the state. 


MATTHEWS: I felt like there wasn’t anything more I needed to do there because they already seemed to mirror my views on that and are on the same page. 


 So, Olivia feels like she, as an individual, can’t actually change anything. 


Fade in tape from protest: My body my choice (repeated) 


Meanwhile, there are others in Chicago who have no trouble looking forward and staying motivated. 


AVIVA LEVINE: Roe v. Wade was won by a militant women’s movement. 


Like Aviva Levine. She’s an organizer with the Party for Socialism and Liberation in Chicago, which organized that protest back in May, where Governor Pritzker spoke.


LEVINE: The Supreme Court did not just hand that one down to us. Roe v. Wade was won because there was women in the street, there was so many people going out in the streets. If Roe v Wade could only have been won through this massive movement and this outpouring of resistance and struggle in the streets, then the only way we’re going to be able to defend it is by doing the same. 


The draft decision has been driving her. Since it was leaked, the Party for Socialism and Liberation has been doing protests, marches, and outreach on the street. 


And as a trans woman, Aviva is especially concerned that overturning Roe could mean that other rights might be in danger too, like marriage equality or LGBTQ rights. 


LEVINE: If Roe is overturned, that means that marriage equality could come next and even more rights rolled back. Abortion is on the chopping block in the immediate, and then all these other things could be coming next.


With that potential in mind, Aviva is staying inspired and working to create change. 


LEVINE: My main thing is that we can’t give up hope. We can’t assume that it’s already been overturned.


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Megan Jeyifo is also preparing for Roe to be overturned. She’s the executive director of the Chicago Abortion Fund. 


MEGAN JEYIFO: We are staffing up. We are deepening our relationships with both providers here in Illinois and outside of Illinois. There will be a lot of confusion and a big role, I think, that abortion funds and providers have is making sure people know when and where abortion is actually legal.


Megan says when the draft decision was first leaked, she immediately started getting texts. But, it wasn’t the decision that surprised her. 


JEYIFO: I was with a friend who worked in abortion funding. And I kind of looked at her and I was like, why are people texting us about this? We’ve been telling them this was going to happen, why are our phones blowing up? You know, I wasn’t surprised. At CAF, we’ve been planning for this for close to a year. I think the attention was more surprising than the opinion.


CAF has been preparing for this moment for a long time. Megan has seen an increase in the number of calls CAF gets. And, she says people have been coming to Illinois due to restrictions in their own states for years. 


JEYIFO: Illinois is already supporting thousands of people from out of state. The Chicago Abortion Fund is supporting thousands of people from out of state, like all of this is happening.


As someone who has had multiple abortions, Megan wants people to talk about abortion more, to normalize saying the word. She wants people who feel helpless in this moment to get engaged. There are ways to get involved, whether that be by sharing information about abortion or volunteering as a clinic escort at Planned Parenthood. 


JEYIFO: We cannot feel hopeless. This is a time for us to get energized and get organized. Because we have a mandate. We have a responsibility.


Roll music


A final decision from the Supreme Court is expected this summer. Meanwhile, the women of Chicago will be ready, no matter the outcome. 


Jane Vaughan, Medill Reports.


Jane Vaughan is a social justice graduate student at Medill. You can follow her on Twitter at @jvaughan124.