Planned Parenthood launches its 1st mobile abortion clinic Planned Parenthood says it will provide abortions out of an RV-based clinic in southern Illinois by the end of the year. It will reduce travel time for some patients coming from surrounding states.

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

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JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

With the overturning of Roe v. Wade, more patients are traveling for abortions. And now some abortion providers are trying to travel closer to them. Planned Parenthood announced today it will open its first mobile unit providing abortions by the end of the year in Illinois. NPR's Sarah McCammon joins us now. Hi, Sarah.

SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: Hi, Juana.

SUMMERS: So, Sarah, let's just start with the basics here. What is a mobile abortion clinic, and how is this going to work?

MCCAMMON: Yeah, so think about an RV trailer like you might see on the highway, only rather than essentially a small home, this will be a small doctor's office with a couple of exam rooms, a waiting area and a laboratory. Yamelsie Rodriguez is president of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis region and southwest Missouri, and she says Illinois has become a hub for people seeking abortions from across the region.

YAMELSIE RODRIGUEZ: We are all trying to work together to meet the exponential increase in the number of patients that are traveling from ban states to what we're calling haven states for abortion care. It's an all-hands-on-deck moment.

MCCAMMON: And Rodriguez says since Roe v. Wade was overturned about three months ago, the number of travelers to their clinic in Fairview Heights, Ill., which is across the state line from St. Louis, has increased more than threefold. So this mobile unit is meant to help meet some of that demand and cut travel time for some of these patients.

SUMMERS: OK. But an RV looks quite different from a traditional medical clinic. Can it really take the place of a traditional clinic? And what types of services will it offer?

MCCAMMON: Yeah, so it's certainly a smaller space, and there are limitations. Planned Parenthood plans to offer abortion pills by the end of the year and then first trimester surgical abortions next year. Dr. Colleen McNicholas, the medical director, says the patients who come to the mobile clinic will be given those pills as well as counseling about how to take them.

COLLEEN MCNICHOLAS: We do have some pretty frank discussions with folks about what the legal landscape of abortion access is in their state. And we provide information, you know, to help them make informed decisions. We share with them what we think the best medical practice is, and then we leave it up to them to decide how they'll execute on that.

MCCAMMON: And obviously it has to stay within Illinois, where abortion is legal, but it can get closer to other states' borders. Planned Parenthood says they're talking to organizations that might be able to host the unit throughout southern Illinois, places like health care organizations or even churches.

SUMMERS: And, Sarah, what have you been hearing from anti-abortion rights activists? Do they think that there's anything that they can do to stop this?

MCCAMMON: So the abortion rights opponents I've been talking to acknowledge that it's very difficult to stop people from crossing state lines. Now, there has been some talk about that. One Missouri lawmaker, for example, proposed earlier this year some legislation modeled after SB 8 in Texas, which you may remember used civil lawsuits to enforce an abortion ban. But I talked to John Seago with Texas Right to Life, and he says expanding that concept across state lines is just not something they see as viable right now.

JOHN SEAGO: This is kind of the new landscape with what the Supreme Court gave us - is that you are going to have the unsettled landscape where abortion is accessible in some states and, you know, then prohibited in others.

MCCAMMON: That said, you know, he expects Texas lawmakers at least to look at ways to try to prosecute people who do things like host websites that send abortion pills through the mail into Texas.

SUMMERS: And, Sarah, just quickly, back to that mobile unit, do you think we'll see more like the one from Planned Parenthood?

MCCAMMON: Well, this speaks to the ways that reproductive health care providers are innovating. This is the first mobile unit from Planned Parenthood that will provide abortions, but they say they may open more in the future. Another group is doing something similar in the west. And meanwhile, groups like Planned Parenthood say they're trying to expand other services like contraception, particularly in places where abortion is now illegal and there's more of a need.

SUMMERS: NPR's Sarah McCammon, thank you.

MCCAMMON: Thank you.

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