‘Act of defiance’: US advocates launching mobile abortion clinic

Planned Parenthood says an Illinois mobile clinic is to address rising demand among people in US states where abortion is banned.

Abortion rights protesters rally in the US
Several US states have banned or severely restricted abortion since the Supreme Court overturned its landmark Roe v Wade ruling in June, sparking protests [File: Shelby Tauber/Reuters]

Yamelsie Rodriguez describes it as an “act of defiance”.

But more than that, the plan to open a mobile abortion clinic in the US state of Illinois aims to respond to what Rodriguez – president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of the St Louis region and southwest Missouri – said is an increasingly urgent need for abortion services.

Illinois has seen a dramatic jump in the number of patients travelling from states where abortion was banned or severely restricted after the United States Supreme Court overturned the constitutional right to the procedure in June, she told Al Jazeera.

Abortion remains legal in Illinois and people have been travelling long distances from Oklahoma, Tennessee and other areas to access care since the fall of Roe v Wade, she said. Already, wait times at a Planned Parenthood clinic in southern Illinois, just across the Mississippi River from St Louis, have jumped from four days to more than two weeks.

“We have made it clear to our patients that we were not going to leave them behind, and that we were not going to back down,” Rodriguez told Al Jazeera, stressing the group’s commitment to providing patients with abortion services “no matter where they are”.

Earlier this week, the US marked 100 days since the country’s top court overturned its landmark 1973 abortion ruling, setting off widespread protests and calls for action to protect reproductive rights.

The end of Roe v Wade also saw Republican-led states immediately spring into action to curtail the procedure, capping a decades-long campaign by conservatives and religious groups opposed to abortion. Several states imposed outright bans, while others put stringent curbs in place.

Planned Parenthood’s mobile abortion clinic – the group’s first in the US – comes as part of an opposite push by rights advocates to create abortion sanctuary networks and reduce barriers to accessing the procedure in a post-Roe US.

“It’s been 100 days since the Supreme Court unjustly overturned #RoevWade, but our communities are coming together in new ways to protect access to reproductive healthcare,” St Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones wrote on Twitter on Monday, welcoming the mobile clinic plan.

Rodriguez told Al Jazeera that Planned Parenthood has secured an 11-metre (37-foot) RV, which will have two examination rooms, a waiting room and a laboratory.

The vehicle is expected to be operational before the end of the year, when it will travel along Illinois’s southern border offering what’s known as medication abortion up to 11 weeks of gestation. The process – ending a pregnancy through medication – accounts for more than half of all abortions in the US, according to the Guttmacher Institute reproductive rights group.

Surgical abortions will be available at the mobile clinic early next year, Rodriguez said.

“We expect to see an increase in demand for mobile care as the goal here is to reduce the hundreds of miles that people are travelling one way just to access abortion care in southern Illinois,” she added.

Travel increasing

Even before Roe was overturned, approximately 9 percent of abortion patients in the US had to travel outside their home states to access services, the Guttmacher Institute said. But rights advocates have warned the rate is steadily increasing since the Supreme Court’s decision.

The National Abortion Federation, which operates the country’s largest abortion hotline, said it paid for 76 hotel rooms in the first month after the top court overturned Roe on June 24 – up from five such bookings during the same period a year earlier.

The federation also booked 52 bus or plane trips for patients travelling for abortion services between June 24 and July 25 of this year, compared to just one over the same period in 2021. “More people are being forced to travel now than ever before,” the group’s chief operating officer, Veronica Jones, said in a statement in August unveiling the statistics.

“The truth is, abortion bans are intended to make accessing care burdensome, and even with financial assistance, some people will still be denied the abortion care they need. Until we restore abortion rights for everyone and remove the burdens that made accessing abortion care difficult even before Roe was overturned, there will always be people without access to the care they want and need.”

That was echoed by Rodriguez at Planned Parenthood, who said reproductive rights groups are in an “all hands on deck” moment to provide access to care.

“One hundred days post-[the Supreme Court decision], what we are seeing is exactly what we expected … devastating stories of people who are being forced to flee their home states, people who are outraged that a 50-year precedent has been taken away,” she told Al Jazeera.

“But I think the silver lining of this,” she added, “is that more and more people are coming out and standing firmly for reproductive rights.”

Source: Al Jazeera