BELLEVILLE – “Welcome to Illinois, where you can get a safe, legal abortion.”
This is what a billboard along Interstate 55 tells drivers as they enter the state from St. Louis. The eye-catching billboard, an advertisement for the Hope Clinic for Women abortion clinic in Granite City, has been up since March 18 and can be seen from I-64 as well.
The Hope Clinic’s executive director and physician, Erin King, said when the clinic’s team heard, through news and social media, about a billboard with similar wording in Colorado, they sympathized with the message.
“Here we are in a state where patients can get access to legal, safe reproductive health care, when states right next door don’t have the same access,” King said. “We wanted to tell patients they are welcome here and providers will get you the help you’re looking for.”
King says the response to the billboard, which will be up until mid-June, has been overwhelmingly positive.
“People are reaching out to us, telling their own stories about crossing state lines and saying, ‘thank you for the work you’re doing,’” she said.
But there have been negative comments as well.
“The theme of most of that feedback is people feeling like we’re advertising abortion,” she said. “But what we’re really saying is, ‘Look, if that’s what you’re seeking, we’re here to support you.’”
One of the people feeling that negative sentiment is Angela Michael, an Illinois resident who runs an anti-abortion group called Small Victories, which protests abortion clinics. Michael said she felt “disgusted” when she heard about the billboard.
“They’re acting like it’s something for Illinois to be proud of,” she said. “It’s a private matter and for us to be advertising something that is that evil, it just really saddens me.”
Michael admitted that when her group protests the Hope Clinic, they see cars with license plates from several different states, like Georgia, Kentucky and mostly Missouri.
That is something the Hope Clinic is proud of though, King said.
“Sadly states around us have become more restrictive in providing access to contraception and reproductive health care, and luckily Illinois can provide that for them,” she said. “We have people who live here saying, ‘I’m so glad to live in a state that values that.’”
In fact, the billboard was timed around when the clinic knew the Missouri legislature would be discussing more restrictive abortion laws.
And though the billboard is an advertisement for the Hope Clinic, King said the clinic hopes to work with other abortion providers throughout the state to spread the message, especially in areas where Illinois borders states with restrictive laws, like Indiana and Iowa.
“We want other abortion providers to know that we’re collaborators and colleagues professionally,” she said. “Hope Clinic is just one of the options if you’re trying to find a provider, but it’s not the only one.”
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PHOTO (for help with images, contact 312-222-4194): ABORTION-BILLBOARD