An abortion clinic on wheels: Planned Parenthood in Illinois aims to reduce travel times for patients in red states by bringing abortion care closer to them. | Tech US News

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CNN

Planned Parenthood is preparing to open its first mobile abortion clinic in southern Illinois, bringing services to patients traveling across the borders of neighboring states where abortion is banned.

The 37-foot RV, which will be staffed by a small crew of three to five, 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 that operates in both Illinois, where abortion is legal, and Missouri, where abortion is banned, to reduce travel times and costs for patients seeking care for abortion.

The mobile clinic is expected to be fully operational before the end of the year, according to Dr. Colleen McNicholas, medical director of Planned Parenthood for the St. Louis region. Louis and southwest Missouri.

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of the St. Louis has been inundated with abortion patients since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June and repealed the federal right to abortion.

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

The surge in demand for abortion care for women living in the South and Midwest, as well as for patients seeking abortions later in pregnancy due to the Supreme Court decision, has come “faster than we expected,” she said. McNicholas.

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

JAMA researchers found that abortion facilities in states where the procedure was banned were inactive, reducing the number of active facilities by one-tenth. The drop in active facilities means that one-third of women of reproductive age in the U.S. USA lives more than an hour from the nearest abortion center.

McNicholas said many patients travel up to 600 miles each way for 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 abortion infrastructure across the country is really fragile right now,” McNicholas told CNN. “Across the abortion provider ecosystem, we’re really feeling the brunt of so many people traveling to seek care. The biggest barrier for us in providing care is helping people navigate those logistics, helping to reduce turnaround times wait as long as possible.”

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

The mobile clinic is equipped with 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 particular response to the ways in which abortion restrictions have moved from state to state, it is addressing a long-standing problem of people having to travel for hours, endure waiting periods, spend their own dollars ” said Almeling. Planned Parenthood mobile clinic.

“The fact that Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers would stoop to these kinds of extreme measures to try to increase access to abortion is a very sad statement about contemporary American politics,” he added.

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 country, and many residents traveled to Illinois for abortion care, according to McNicholas.

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

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

McNicholas and his team 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 take by analyzing data on patient travel patterns to Illinois over the past few months to determine what will have “the biggest impact for people,” McNicholas said.

One of the two exam rooms in the mobile clinic.

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

The staff at the St. Louis will help patients make an appointment at the mobile clinic based on how far they have to travel for abortion care, coinciding with 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 been an “oasis for reproductive care” for women living in neighboring red states.

Buckley called the mobile clinic a “godsend,” because while there are some 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 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, it’s not just about abortion, it’s about counseling, cancer screening, prenatal care and reproductive information.”

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