The Future of Abortion: Floating Clinics?

The Future of Abortion: Floating Clinics?

One day soon, people in states that have outlawed abortion may be able to take to the sea. A California OB-GYN is currently organising and fundraising for an offshore, floating abortion clinic in the Gulf of Mexico. The clinic boat would be strategically positioned in federal waters, to avoid the jurisdiction of state abortion bans.

The proposed project is called Protecting Reproductive Rights of Women Endangered by State Statutes (PRROWESS), and is led by Dr. Meg Autry, an OB-GYN and professor at the University of California, San Francisco. Autry had been working on the idea of an offshore clinic for a while, and planning accelerated following the Supreme Court’s repeal of Roe v. Wade last month, according to a report from NBC Bay Area News.

“Part of the reason we’re working on this project so hard is because wealthy people in our country are always going to have access [to abortions], so once again it’s a time now where poor, people of colour, marginalised individuals, are gonna suffer — and by suffering I mean like lives lost,” Autry told the NBC affiliate.

And it is true: more people will die without legal access to abortion. Medication abortions with misoprostol can be safely self-managed at home. However, there are other dangers to restricting abortions: rates of pregnancy complications, domestic violence, and unsafe surgical abortions are all known to rise where abortion access is cut off.

People in southern and coastal Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, and Texas are the primary group that PRROWESS intends to serve. As the project website pointed out, people in these areas “may be closer to the coast than to facilities in bordering states where abortion and reproductive health care are available.”

Federal waters begin three nautical miles off the coast of Louisiana, Alabama, and Mississippi (although temporary laws have previously extended that boundary), and nine miles off the coast of Texas. Since Roe was repealed, all four states have enacted total abortion bans.

Currently, people living in states with abortion bans have the theoretical option of flying out of state to access care elsewhere. However, PRROWESS aims to be another option, ideally one less time and cost intensive for some than long-distance air travel.

“Flying out-of-state often requires patients to secure child care and time off work for multiple days, and may not be an option at all for people who are undocumented. PRROWESS will offer easier and faster access to services for those individuals,” said the project FAQs.

The clinic is currently fundraising, but if and when it becomes operational, it would offer surgical abortions up to 14 weeks, contraception and emergency contraception (like Plan B), STI testing and treatment, and social work and legal aid services. Ideally, receiving care on the floating clinic would be very low cost or free for patients, fully funded by donations, according to the PRROWESS website.

Some details have yet to be ironed out. Autry told the Associated Press that the project team is still trying to work out where the boat would launch from and how to best transport patients to and from the ship. PRROWESS expects to face legal challenges from Gulf states, but they’re prepared to fight back. Autry told NBC Bay Area News that they’ve already begun assembling a legal team.

PRROWESS isn’t the first example of advocates and experts calling for abortion havens that circumvent state laws by deferring to federal protections. Representatives Cori Bush and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have called for abortion clinics to open in National Parks — an idea which Senator Elizabeth Warren echoed her support for.

Whether it be in federal waters or on federal lands, we’re headed towards a future where abortion providers have to get creative to combat the coordinated efforts to limit reproductive rights.

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