An abortion clinic on wheels: Planned Parenthood in Illinois aims to reduce travel times for patients in red states, bringing abortion care closer to them


Planned Parenthood is preparing to open its first mobile abortion clinic in Southern Illinois, which will bring services closer to patients by traveling across the borders of neighboring abortion-ban states.

The 37-foot RV has a waiting room, laboratory space and two exam rooms, which will accommodate a small staff of three to five.

The mobile clinic is part of a larger effort by a Planned Parenthood chapter operating in abortion-legal Illinois and abortion-ban Missouri to reduce travel times and costs for patients seeking care aborted.

The mobile clinic is expected to be fully operational before the end of the year, according to Dr. Colleen McNicholas, chief medical officer of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region. Louis and Southwest Missouri.

The Fairview Heights affiliate abortion clinic on the Illinois side of the St. Louis region has been flooded with abortion patients since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June and revoked the federal right to abortion.

From June to October of this year, the clinic saw a 370% increase in patients seeking abortions from states outside its service area in Missouri and Illinois, representatives from the St. Louis office said.

The increased demand for abortion care for women living in the South and Midwest as well as patients seeking abortions later in pregnancy because of the Supreme Court’s decision came “more quickly than we expected ,” McNicholas said.

The average travel time to an abortion facility increased significantly for women in the United States and more than a dozen states enacted full or partial abortion bans after the Women’s Health Organization ruling Dobbs v. Jackson, according to a study released by the Journal of the American Medical Association.

JAMA researchers estimated that abortion facilities in states where the procedure is banned were inactive, cutting the number of active facilities by a tenth. The drop in active facilities means that a third of women of reproductive age in the US live more than an hour from the nearest abortion facility.

McNicholas said many patients travel up to 600 miles each way to receive abortion care at the Illinois clinic, many of whom are forced to make difficult adjustments to their children, jobs and other family responsibilities to travel the distance.

“The infrastructure that provides abortion across the country is really fragile right now,” McNicholas told CNN. “Across the ecosystem of abortion providers, so many people who are traveling for care rely heavily on us. Our biggest hurdle in providing care is helping people navigate those logistics, helping to reduce waiting times as much as we can.”

During the early stages, the clinic will only offer medication abortions as well as pregnancy testing, pregnancy ultrasounds and sexually transmitted infection testing and treatment, which will help “offload some capacity” for the Fairview Heights brick-and-mortar clinic, he said. McNicholas. By the first quarter of next year, the goal is to begin offering surgical abortions to patients, she said.

The mobile clinic has a waiting room, laboratory space and two examination rooms.

Before the Supreme Court decision, it was already difficult for many women in the country to access abortion, according to Rene Almeling, professor of sociology at Yale University.

“While this is a specific response to the ways abortion restrictions have gone from state to state, it is addressing a long-standing problem of people having to travel for hours, endure wait times , to spend their own dollars,” Almeling said. Planned Parenthood mobile clinic.

“It’s a very sad statement about contemporary American politics that Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers have been reduced to taking these extreme measures to try to increase access to abortion,” she said.

The concept of the mobile clinic came long before the Supreme Court stripped the federal right to abortion, as Missouri already had some of the most restrictive abortion laws in the nation, with many residents traveling to Illinois for abortion care, according to McNicholas.

Anticipating the “inevitable” reversal of Roe v. Wade, the Planned Parenthood affiliate in 2019 opened a clinic across the Missouri border in Fairview Heights.

“One of the things we’ve learned from our experience in Missouri is that physical space has come to meet the needs of some people, but it still creates huge logistical barriers for people. If we were really going to do some innovative work after Roe was overturned to lower barriers for people, we need to find a way to bring that care closer to them,” McNicholas said.

McNicholas and her staff are in the final stages of making sure all the equipment is working and starting to fill the schedule with patient appointments. They are also planning the route the mobile clinic will follow by analyzing data on patient travel patterns to Illinois over the past few months to determine what would make “the biggest impact for people,” McNicholas said.

One of the mobile clinic's two examination rooms.

Another part of the plan involves implementing alarm systems, cameras and other security measures to protect patients and staff from any potential threats.

Staff members in the St. Louis office will help patients make an appointment at the mobile clinic depending on how far they have to travel for abortion care, depending on when the unit will be in an area closer to where they are. .

Cynthia Buckley, a professor of sociology at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, said Illinois has become an “oasis for reproductive care” for women living in neighboring red states.

Buckley called the mobile clinic a “godsend,” because while there are several abortion clinics near the Illinois border, there is a severe lack of clinics north and south of the border.

Among Missouri’s border states, abortion is legal in Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, and Kansas. It is illegal with very few exceptions in Oklahoma, Arkansas, Tennessee, and Kentucky, according to the Guttmacher Institute, which tracks abortion laws.

“The easier we can make it for women to access care, the better off everyone will be,” she said. “This is a mobile clinic that provides a wealth of information about reproductive health care, this is not just about abortion, this is about counselling, cancer screening, antenatal care and information about reproduction.”


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