Planned Parenthood mobile clinic will take abortion to red-state borders

Updated October 3, 2022 at 10:32 am ET

With a growing number of patients in states that now ban abortion travel for the procedure, Planned Parenthood will soon open its first mobile abortion clinic in the country in southern Illinois.

A rendering by Planned Parenthood shows the design for a new mobile clinic that is expected to begin providing abortion pills in Illinois by the end of the year.

/ Credit: Planned Parenthood


Credit: Planned Parenthood

A rendering by Planned Parenthood shows the design for a new mobile clinic that is expected to begin providing abortion pills in Illinois by the end of the year.

“Our goal is to reduce the hundreds of miles people now have to travel to access care … and meet them where they are,” said Yamelsie Rodriguez, president of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis area and Southwest Missouri said in an interview with NPR.

The mobile clinic will begin offering consultations and dispensing abortion pills later this year. It will operate in Illinois, where abortion remains legal, but be able to travel closer to neighboring states’ borders, reducing the distance many patients travel for the procedure.

“It gives us a lot of flexibility in where we want to be,” said Rodriguez.

Illinois has become a hub for people from other parts of the Midwest and South who can no longer get abortions in their home states due to the overturning of the US Supreme Court decision this summer Roe v. calf.

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Recognizing this opportunity, in 2019 Planned Parenthood opened a large clinic in Fairview Heights, Illinois, just across the state line from St. Louis. Missouri had some of the toughest abortion laws in the nation even before the court approved them Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision, and state officials moved almost immediately to impose abortion bans in response.

The Fairview Heights clinic is expected to receive about 14,000 patients each year from across the region, an increase that is happening “much, much faster than we anticipated,” Rodriguez said. “We just need more access points.”

The mobile facility – set up in a mobile home – will include a small waiting area, a laboratory and two examination rooms. It will initially allow a medical abortion up to 11 weeks gestation, officials said. It will eventually offer surgical abortions, which will likely begin sometime next year.

Patients who see healthcare providers at the mobile clinic will follow the same protocol as those who attend a permanent Planned Parenthood facility, said Dr. Colleen McNicholas, the region’s chief medical officer for Planned Parenthood. They take mifepristone — the first in a two-drug protocol approved by the Food and Drug Administration — on the spot. You will be offered counseling about the other drug, misoprostol, which will be taken later.

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“The only thing that will change is the fact that they may now only have to drive five hours instead of nine,” she said.

One of the first tasks will be to determine the best routes for the mobile clinic. The organization reviews the data to determine where patients are coming from, considering health facilities, churches and other locations as possible stopovers. Another important consideration will be patient and staff safety, McNicholas said.

Officials say they may expand to additional mobile units in the future. If the mobile clinic concept is successful, it could be part of a broader strategy to find new ways to reach patients who want a post-pregnancy abortion.Roe. An organization called Just the Pill recently announced that it would offer mobile, clinic-based medical abortion treatment to patients in the western and midwestern United States.

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“We’re all trying to work together to manage the exponential increase in the number of patients traveling from prohibited states to so-called ‘sanctuary states’ for abortion treatments,” said Yamelsie Rodriguez. “It’s a moment when all hands are on deck.”

Planned Parenthood says between June when the Dobbs The decision was enacted, and by August, the number of patients coming to the Fairview Heights clinic from outside of Missouri or Illinois nearly quadrupled. The organization is also preparing to open a new family planning clinic in Rolla, Missouri, in early November. Rodriguez said it is part of a larger push to expand services like contraception, STI screening and transgender care, and to provide reproductive health care in underserved rural parts of the state.

The overturning of roe likely sparked battles between states with a patchwork of differing abortion laws. Earlier this year, a Missouri state legislature unsuccessfully proposed allowing people to file lawsuits against those who help Missouri residents get abortions out of the state — what they termed “abortion tourism.” That proposal failed, but legal experts say it’s unclear how clashes between state laws will be resolved going forward.

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