Getting an abortion in one of the Gulf states has become nearly impossible now that the U.S. Supreme Court has overturned Roe v. Wade. Texas, Alabama, and Mississippi have all banned abortion outright. Louisiana also has a trigger ban in place, but a state court temporarily blocked it with a hearing set for July 8th. Anyone looking for an abortion in this part of the south will now have to travel out of state, which will likely take them to Florida, Georgia, or New Mexico.
But patients seeking reproductive care in this region may soon have another option. The organization known as PRROWESS, which stands for Protecting Reproductive Rights of Women Endangered by State Statutes, says it plans to open a floating reproductive clinic on the Gulf of Mexico. Doctors say the clinic will provide reproductive health services three weeks a month, including contraception and surgical abortion up to 14 weeks.
The clinic is designed to primarily serve American citizens living in states where abortion is now illegal, including those living in Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi.
“The vessel will be Coast Guard inspected and will have helicopter access for transport and emergencies,” the organization says.
Floating medical facilities have long been used by the military and other emergency relief organizations and PRROWESS says research shows patients are willing to travel to a floating clinic to receive care. However, it remains unclear how patients will be transported to and from the mainland.
Operating in federal waters gives the vessel the freedom to circumvent recent abortion bans. Organizers say some women may not have the means to book a flight or drive hundreds of miles out of state to receive an abortion. The offshore clinic will help these patients stay closer to home, which means taking less time off work and spending more time with their loved ones.
“This is closer and faster access for some people, particularly for working people that live in the southernmost part of these states,” said Dr. Meg Autry, of the University of California—San Francisco. “This is all about bodily autonomy and choice, and so people have a right to be pregnant and also not to have a pregnancy,”
Autry is the vice chair of graduate medical education and continuing medical education for the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences at UCSF. She wants to offer reproductive health services at low or no cost, but the vessel is expected to cost around $20 million. The organization is currently accepting donations, including a donated boat.
“People that care deeply about access to reproductive rights know that we have to be innovative and creative in order for patients to be able to continue to have access,” Autry told reporters. “We know internationally that when access is limited or abortion is illegal, patients die.”
Organizers hope to get the floating clinic up and running within a year, but there will be challenges to overcome.
“There’s operational, logistics, there’s the whole idea of maritime law and then there’s obviously security, there’s liability, I mean the challenges are countless,” Autry said.
“We have a very powerful legal team,” she added. “I’m sure there will be legal barriers and problems at every part of this journey.”
The doctors behind the vessel admitted that the clinic may be too expensive to operate. If the project is ultimately unsuccessful, the vessel will be disbanded and the remining money will go towards supporting abortion services in other states.
The clinic is expected to be stationed nine miles off the coast of Texas.
“There’s been an assault on reproductive rights in our country and I’m a lifelong advocate for reproductive health and choice. We have to create options and be thoughtful and creative to help people in restrictive states get the health care they deserve,” Autry told The Associated Press.
Autry sees protecting abortion rights as her main goal in life. She has spent her entire career helping women find the reproductive care they need.
“I’m a lifelong educator, an abortion and reproductive rights advocate,” Autry said. “And I strongly, strongly believe in equitable health care, and so this has just kind of been my life’s work.”
Once women pass a screening process, the organization says it will secure a safe way for them to get to and from the clinic.