Our Bags Are Packed: A Reproductive Health Roadtrip Through Illinois

Allie Carter

We’re going on the road to interview people in Illinois about obstacles accessing reproductive health services, and make sure the media and the state legislature take note.  

Rewire is partnering with the American Civil Liberties Union to publish an ongoing travel diary written by ACLU Illinois’ Allison Carter and Khadine Bennett as they travel through the state interviewing people about their experiences accessing reproductive health care.

I got married at the beginning of July. The church, the flowers, the family, the cake and champagne, the whole deal. Why, you ask, am I now planning to spend 2 straight weeks on the road in Illinois traveling with someone other than my new spouse? Why am I leaving the love of my life at home in Chicago to eat food from truck stops, sleep in unfamiliar beds and talk to strangers?

Two reasons: corn dogs and Chlamydia.

The corn dogs should be obvious. Springfield, Illinois, in addition to being our state’s capitol, is home to the Cozy Dog Drive Inn – the birth place of the corn dog. I am a huge fan of corn dogs; delicious and portable, they are nature’s perfect food. And the highways and byways of Illinois are one of the best places to find them in their native habitat.

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Chlamydia is a different matter. In 2007, Illinois had more than 55 thousand cases of Chlamydia – at a rate nearly double the national average. Moreover, those cases were disproportionately in adolescents and young adults. According to the Illinois Department of Public Health, 34 percent of cases were in youths ages 15 to 19 and 36 percent in young people ages 20 to 24.

Those statistics ought to make Illinois lawmakers stand up and take notice. According to SEICUS, in that same year, “The [Illinois] Department of Human Services and community-based organizations in Illinois received approximately $8,815,804 in federal funds for abstinence-only-until-marriage programs…” Since 1998, rates of Chlamydia have risen every year in Illinois. From 32,861 reported cases in 1998 to 55,470 in 2007. During those same years, Illinois has spent tens of millions of dollars on failed abstinence-only education programs that don’t prevent the spread of disease or unwanted teen pregnancies and don’t equip our youth to make healthy decisions and protect themselves.

Even if a young person manages to receive medically-accurate sexual health information, there’s no guarantee that they can access the reproductive health care services they need throughout their lives. Women in Illinois, especially outside of the Chicago area, can face enormous barriers to getting reproductive health services. They may have to travel great distances to find a pharmacy which will fill their birth control prescription. They may find that their local doctor or hospital will no longer provide abortions or emergency contraception because they’ve merged with a religious hospital network. They may have to pay out of increasingly empty pockets because Medicaid doesn’t adequately cover the reproductive health services that they need.

We’re going on the road to talk to the men and women who face these challenges in accessing or providing reproductive health services and information. We’re trying to put a human face on those challenges so that they cannot be ignored by the media or the state legislature.   We’re trying to make the case for why Illinois so desperately needs comprehensive reform of laws regarding reproductive health and access. That’s why I am delighted to spend the next two weeks on the road in Illinois.

That, plus the corn dogs.

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The ACLU of Illinois is embarking on a project to put a human face on the status of reproductive health and access to care in Illinois. Over 10 days in July and August, we will be traveling the state, listening to women, men, young people and doctors throughout Illinois as they share stories about the barriers they face in accessing and providing reproductive health care and information. As we travel more than 2000 miles, through 13 Illinois cities and towns, we will learn more about the challenges everyday people face in filling prescriptions for birth control, in finding doctors who will provide needed services, including abortions, in dealing with Medicaid funding or in receiving comprehensive, age-appropriate sexual health education in public schools.

You can follow our journey at acluroadtrip.org or on twitter and facebook.

Do you have a story to tell? We’re listening. Email us at stories@aclu-il.org or visit action.aclu.org/rhstories.

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