Clinic facilities

A floating abortion clinic? Medical team plans to launch ship in Gulf of Mexico, federal waters

A California doctor plans to launch a floating reproductive health clinic in the Gulf of Mexico, where care will be regulated by federal — not state — law.

The plan – currently in the fundraising stage – hopes to make surgical abortions, contraception and other reproductive health services available to Gulf Coast patients living in states restricting such services.

“Those in the southernmost parts of Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana and Texas may be closer to the coast than facilities in bordering states where abortion and reproductive health care are available. “, we read. the ship’s website, named PROROWESS – an acronym for Protecting Reproductive Rights of Women Endangered by State Statutes. He added that similar facilities “have been used by the military and humanitarian organizations for years.”

The plan was reported for the first time by San Francisco-based KCBS Radio, which said the effort was organized by Bay Area obstetrician Meg Autry.

Autry, who is from the South, told the Chronicle that his inspiration goes back to a popular phenomenon along the Mississippi: river casinos. The fact that different laws applied to gambling on land and water led her to consult with lawyers to see if there might be a way to continue to provide access to abortion after the Supreme Court reversed the Roe v. Wade decision that protected the proceedings.

“We believe patients should be able to make a choice,” she said.

The PROROWESS legal team now includes maritime attorneys and criminal attorneys, who have determined that a floating clinic in federal waters would be able to legally provide services that individual states may restrict, such as surgical abortions.

One of its partners also conducted a study which found that a significant number of patients in the South said they would seek care on a ship if that was their closest option.

When, about a year ago, Roe’s backlash against Wade began to look likely, the group ramped up its organizing efforts, securing seed funding to pay for ship and security consultants. He recently started fundraising.

The PROROWESS website doesn’t say how much funding would be needed to launch a floating clinic — in part, Autry explained, because it depends on what ship they are able to secure. She estimated that it would take around $20 million unless a ship was donated. The funds would cover the purchase of the boat, the process of upgrading it into a clinic, and equipment such as beds and ultrasound machines. The schedule for the floating clinic depends on its fundraising success, but Autry hopes it can open in a year.

Once one-time costs are covered, the ship would rely on ongoing donations to cover operational costs such as medical procedures, crew and security. Autry and other medical providers would volunteer their work, each taking time off from their usual lives for stints at sea.

The PROROWESS would offer surgical abortions up to 14 weeks after conception, as well as contraception, vaccinations and on-site testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections. The ship would have a helicopter in addition to the river shuttles so that patients could be transported quickly in the event of an emergency.

Patients would be pre-screened and given transport arrangements on the ship, which would operate three weeks a month, to give it downtime for maintenance and flexibility for weather conditions. Autry estimated the clinic would be able to see 1,800 patients every six months, but said that number would increase if it acquired a larger vessel.

Autry said the floating clinic would be an important resource for patients living near the Gulf who wanted a surgical abortion because the proximity would make it easier for them to access and require less time off from work. It can also be cheaper than flying patients to states where abortion is legal.