Abortion clinic on wheels: Planned Parenthood aims to reduce travel times for patients in red-state Illinois by bringing abortion care closer to them.


Planned Parenthood is preparing to open its first mobile abortion clinic in southern Illinois, which will bring services closer to patients by traveling across the borders of nearby states that have outlawed abortion.

The 37-foot RV, which will accommodate a small crew of three to five people, includes a waiting room, lab space and two exam rooms.

The mobile clinic is part of a larger effort by a Planned Parenthood chapter 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 is expected to be up and running before the end of the year, said Dr. Colleen McNicholas, St. Louis Region and Medical Director of Planned Parenthood of Southwest Missouri.

St. The Fairview Heights affiliate abortion clinic on the Illinois side of St. Louis County has been overwhelmed with abortion patients by the Supreme Court in Roe v. Since overturning Wade in June and repealing the federal right to abortion.

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

Demand for abortion care for women living in the South and Midwest and for patients seeking abortions during pregnancy because of the Supreme Court decision has increased “faster than we expected,” McNicholas said.

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

JAMA researchers counted abortion facilities in states where the procedure has been banned as inactive, reducing the number of active facilities by one-tenth. The decline in active facilities means that one-third of women of reproductive age in the U.S. live more than an hour from the nearest abortion facility.

McNicholas said many patients travel 600 miles to receive 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 delivery infrastructure across the country is fragile right now,” McNicholas told CNN. “Across the abortion provider ecosystem, we’re feeling the weight of so many people traveling to seek care. Our biggest hurdle in providing care is helping people navigate those logistics, helping to reduce the wait as much as we can.

In the early stages, the clinic will only offer medication abortion and pregnancy tests, pregnancy ultrasounds and sexually transmitted infection testing and treatment, which will help “offload some capacity” for the Fairview Heights brick-and-mortar clinic, McNicholas said. The goal is to start offering surgical abortions to patients by the first quarter of next year, he added.

Before the Supreme Court’s decision, access to abortion was already difficult for many women in the country, says Yale University sociology professor Rene Almeling.

“While this is a unique response to the way abortion restrictions have moved from state to state, it’s addressing a very long-standing problem of people having to travel hours, wait times, spend their dollars,” Almeling said. Planned Parenthood’s mobile clinic.

“That Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers are reduced to taking these extreme measures to try to increase access to abortion is a very sad statement about contemporary American politics,” he added.

The mobile clinic concept came long before the Supreme Court struck down federal abortion rights, as Missouri already had some of the nation’s most restrictive abortion laws, and many residents traveled to Illinois for abortion care, according to McNicholas.

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

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

McNicholas and his team are in the final stages of making sure all the equipment is working and starting to fill the calendar with patient appointments. They are also planning the route the mobile clinic will follow by analyzing data on patient travel patterns to Illinois in recent months to determine what would have the “biggest impact on people,” McNicholas said.

One of the two examination rooms of 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.

St. Louis office staff will help patients make an appointment at the mobile clinic based on the distance they need to travel for abortion care, matching the unit to an area closer to where they are.

Cynthia Buckley, a sociology professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, said Illinois has been “an oasis of 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 border in Illinois, 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 in Oklahoma, Arkansas, Tennessee and Kentucky with very few exceptions, according to the Guttmacher Institute, which tracks abortion laws.

“The easier it is for women to get care, the better it is for everyone,” she said. “It’s a mobile clinic that offers a wealth of information about reproductive health care, this is not just abortion, this is counseling, cancer screening, prenatal care and reproductive information.”