Planned Parenthood will soon start offering abortion pills from a mobile clinic In response to increasing abortion restrictions in the region, a Planned Parenthood chapter in Missouri and Illinois is preparing to open a mobile unit providing abortions in southern Illinois.

Meeting abortion patients where they are: providers turn to mobile units

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

In some parts of the country where abortions are increasingly difficult to access, providers are turning to mobile clinics. This week, a Planned Parenthood affiliate in the Midwest received a new RV that it plans to take on the road, providing abortion pills and other services across Southern Illinois. A few reporters were invited to take a look. NPR's Sarah McCammon was among them and filed this report from Southern Illinois, just across the border from Missouri.

SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: LaQuetta Cooper is standing in front of a big, blue RV parked in an industrial lot in Southern Illinois. It looks a lot like any other RV out on the road except for the lettering on the side that reads Mobile Health Clinic. Cooper, the health care operations director for Planned Parenthood in the region, says this new vehicle soon will be meeting up with patients from all over the area to deliver abortion pills.

LAQUETTA COOPER: The biggest needs that we are seeing is the fact that they have to travel so far to get the care that they need. This will be helpful so that they don't have to travel three to five hours trying to get the abortion care that they need.

MCCAMMON: After the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June, neighboring Missouri quickly enacted its abortion ban. Most of Illinois' other neighboring states have either implemented abortion bans or could soon depending on the outcome of court battles. Cooper says Planned Parenthood's Southern Illinois clinic near East Saint Louis is one of few places in the region to get an abortion now.

COOPER: Because of that, we've seen a huge uptake quicker than we thought we were going to see in the last few months.

MCCAMMON: Planned Parenthood's new mobile clinic is one of just a few like it nationwide. This summer, the nonprofit organization Just The Pill quietly began offering abortion pills out of a mobile unit in Colorado. The group's medical director, Dr. Julie Amaon, says these moving clinics are part of what she describes as the next iteration of abortion care in regions with limited access.

JULIE AMAON: We can go wherever the need is greatest. So that means less traveling for our patients. It means that we can quickly adapt to the courts, to state legislatures and the market.

MCCAMMON: With Roe v. Wade overturned, groups opposed to abortion rights are urging midterm voters to choose candidates who will move to restrict it in their states. And some, like Reagan Barklage, national field director for Students for Life of America, want lawmakers to try to pass legislation that makes crossing state lines for abortion difficult or impossible.

REAGON BARKLAGE: So I know there's legislators that are working on bills that would prevent women from crossing state lines, and they're trying to come up with different strategies to work on that and also ways that they can prevent women from buying them online.

MCCAMMON: Barklage also says she worries about the safety of people taking abortion pills at home or a hotel. But Dr. Amaon notes that medication abortion was approved by the FDA more than 20 years ago and says her mobile patients receive the same follow-up care as those who come to a traditional clinic. Mobile clinics will operate in the same complex legal landscape as other abortion providers, says Carole Joffe, a sociologist at the University of California, San Francisco, who specializes in reproductive health.

CAROLE JOFFE: Abortion health care is like no other branch of health care. Any move that is made to increase abortion access will be met by those opposed to abortion to try to impede it in various ways.

MCCAMMON: Joffe also points to security concerns, which may be heightened for mobile units. At Just The Pill, Dr. Amaon says they've installed bulletproofing in their vehicles as a precaution and hired security personnel. Planned Parenthood says it's developing similar protocols for its new unit, which will operate within Illinois state lines, where abortion is legal.

Inside, there are examination tables and ultrasound machines in two small exam rooms.

COLLEEN MCNICHOLAS: Oh, this is big in here. This one is bigger.

MCCAMMON: Dr. Colleen McNicholas, Planned Parenthood's chief medical officer for the St. Louis region and Southwest Missouri, saw it for the first time yesterday. McNicholas says she thinks the mobile clinic could be replicated in other parts of the country where neighboring states restrict abortion.

MCNICHOLAS: And this unit really, truly is for us, I think, a demonstration of an act of defiance. We're here, and we're going to be here, and we're going to continue to show up for people who need us.

MCCAMMON: Planned Parenthood's mobile clinic will start offering abortion pills later this year and surgical procedures sometime next year. Meanwhile, Just The Pill is making plans to open at least two more such vehicles and looking at expanding into Illinois and Minnesota.

Sarah McCammon, NPR News, St. Clair County, Ill.

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