Clinic facilities

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


Planned Parenthood is preparing to open its first mobile abortion clinic in southern Illinois, which will bring services closer to patients by traveling along the borders of neighboring states where abortion has been banned.

The 37-foot RV, which will be staffed by a small crew of three to five people, is equipped with a waiting room, lab space and two exam rooms.

The mobile clinic is part of a larger effort by a Planned Parenthood chapter operating in both Illinois, where abortion is legal, and Missouri, where abortion has been banned, to reduce travel times and costs for patients seeking abortion care.

The mobile clinic should 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 and Southwest Missouri.

The affiliate’s Fairview Heights abortion clinic, on the Illinois side of the St. Louis area, has been inundated with abortion patients since the Supreme Court overruled 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 the number of patients seeking abortions in states outside of its service area of ​​Missouri and Illinois, office officials said. St. Louis.

The increased demand for abortion care for women living in the South and Midwest as well as patients seeking abortions later in pregnancy due to the Supreme Court ruling came “faster than expected,” said McNicholas.

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

JAMA researchers considered abortion centers in states where the procedure was banned to be inactive, reducing the number of active facilities by one-tenth. The decline in active facilities means that one-third of women of childbearing age in the United States 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 for their children, jobs and others. family responsibilities in order to cover the distance.

“The abortion infrastructure across the country is really fragile right now,” McNicholas told CNN. “Throughout the abortion provider ecosystem, we really feel the weight of so many people traveling for care. The biggest hurdle for us in providing care is helping people navigate in this logistics, helping to reduce waiting times as much as possible.

In its early stages, the clinic will only offer medical abortions as well as pregnancy tests, pregnancy ultrasounds and sexually transmitted infection testing and treatment, which will help ‘unload some of the capacity’ from the physical clinic in Fairview Heights, McNicholas said. By the first quarter of next year, the goal is to start offering surgical abortions to patients, she added.

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

“While this is a particular response to the way abortion restrictions have now shifted from state to state, it solves a very long-standing problem of people having to travel for hours , enduring waiting times, spending their own money,” Almeling said of Planned Parenthood’s Mobile Clinic.

“The fact that Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers are reduced to taking these kinds of extreme measures to try to increase access to abortion is a very sad statement about contemporary American politics,” he said. -she adds.

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

In anticipation of the “inevitable” overthrow of Roe v. Planned Parenthood affiliate Wade opened a clinic across the Missouri border in Fairview Heights in 2019.

“One of the things we had learned from our experience in Missouri was that having a physical space to accommodate some people’s needs, but that still presents huge logistical hurdles for people. If we were really going to do innovative work after Roe’s reversal to reduce barriers for people, we had to find a way to bring that care closer to them,” McNicholas said.

McNicholas and his team are in the final stages of getting all the equipment working and starting to fill the calendar with patient appointments. They’re also planning the route the mobile clinic will take by analyzing data on patient travel patterns to Illinois over the past several months to determine what would have the “most impact for people,” said McNicholas.

One of the two mobile clinic examination rooms.

Another part of the plan is to put in place alarm systems, cameras and other security measures to protect patients and staff from any possible threats.

Staff members from the St. Louis office will help patients book an appointment at the mobile clinic based on how far they need to travel for abortion care, corresponding to when the unit will be in a area closer to where they are.

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

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

Among the states bordering Missouri, 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 Institutewho follows abortion laws.

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