California Doctor Proposes Floating Clinic to Avoid Abortion Restrictions on Gulf Coast – NBC Los Angeles

know about California Doctor Proposes Floating Clinic to Avoid Abortion Restrictions on Gulf Coast – NBC Los Angeles

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Dr. Meg Autry knew some women would soon face difficulties accessing abortion long before the June 24 Supreme Court decision officially overturned Roe v. Wade.

“I can’t pinpoint it, but at some point in the last three to five years,” he began to sense that a change was coming.

In her work as an obstetrician-gynecologist and professor at the University of California, San Francisco, she advocated for reproductive rights for decades and “could see the writing on the wall, politically,” as those rights began to be restricted.

So she began researching the idea that would eventually become ABILITY.

It is a nonprofit organization, dedicated to creating and running a floating health clinic that will eventually anchor in federal waters off the Gulf Coast, bypassing restrictive state laws by providing “reproductive health and wellness services, including contraception and abortion surgical”, free of charge. in federal waters.

The idea came from the casino boats that float on the Mississippi River. Autry, originally from the South, was already familiar with the steamboats that circumvented state gambling regulations staying in the water.

“I was kidding, [saying] we should do a clinic on the Mississippi River,” he recalled.

But as the situation around Roe v. Wade began to clarify, “I liked it, I started doing some light research on it, and then probably about two or three years ago I got in touch with some maritime lawyers.”

When it became clear that every state along the Gulf Coast was moving to restrict access to abortion, Autry and the experts she was consulting with began to focus on that body of water.

The clinic’s mission, as stated on its website, is “to provide a safe haven for people from states where reproductive rights are severely affected by legislation limiting access to reproductive health care.”

That mission is still in the planning stages, with donations right now going to consultants in the maritime, medical and legal community to ensure the clinic runs smoothly and effectively, and for the purchase and modernization of a ship that meet your needs.

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But the organization and those consultants are now working to get the clinic off the ground, hoping to eventually hire a core crew for the ship and find volunteers for other duties.

“In the last year we decided we thought we can really do this, now we need to get it operational,” Autry said.

They have been meeting weekly to determine what size ship they will work on, how to transport people who need their services to the clinic, how many people will work on the crew, and who they can trust to work or volunteer there.

Beyond surgical abortions up to 14 weeks, the clinic will offer “contraception, including emergency contraception, on-site testing for sexually transmitted infections (STIs), STI treatment and vaccinations.”

An “incredible amount of detail and planning” has been included, he said.

Part of that planning is creating a welcoming environment, rather than a scary “dark alley,” according to Autry. “We hope it will be aesthetically pleasing.”

The organization is also studying the possibility of including legal assistance, social workers and therapists in the offer of the clinic, so that patients “feel well cared for” both from a social and medical point of view.

Eventually, PRROWESS will offer clinical services for about three weeks each month, aided by “a full team of licensed health care providers” and “an experienced captain and crew,” according to the website.

People are already reaching out to help with the effort, Autry said.

“I can’t overstate or understate how incredible the reach has been,” he said, and not just from a financial standpoint.

Grant writers, medical professionals, attorneys and others have asked if they can volunteer or work with the clinic, Autry said. Several of them are from the South, in states now affected by extreme restrictions.

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By overturning Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court cited “history and tradition.” How exactly is that story? To find out, LX News anchor Jalyn Henderson spoke with Leslie Jean Reagan, Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies at the University of Illinois – Urbana Champagne and author of “When Abortion Was a Crime.”

The goal of the clinic is to provide care “at little or no cost to the patient, depending on need,” the website says.

That goes for all potential future patients, Autry said, but he’s moving forward with the clinic to care for people who will be hit the hardest by the new restrictions.

“I try to say this in every interview, this is truly for poor people and marginalized patients,” he told NBCLA. “I don’t know if wealthy people will choose to go on a boat to get reproductive health services.”

For people who can’t afford to take three days off work to travel inland to another state, or can’t afford a plane ticket to do so, she hopes the PRROWESS clinic “enables patients to get the care they they need in a day. in a way that is legal for them.

And according to Martin J. Davies, a maritime law professor and expert at Tulane University in Louisiana, the plan is likely to work.

Once ships travel more than three nautical miles — just under three and a half regular miles — from the Gulf of Mexico coast, those ships leave the territory controlled by an individual state and enter federal waters, Davies explained.

“Essentially what [the clinic is] trusting that, when you’re in that area, you’re in a geographic territory that is governed by federal law but not state law,” Davies said in a phone call with NBC4. “And of course there is no federal law that governs abortions”.

Because states can only apply their laws to territory they control, restrictions on abortion in states like Texas and Louisiana would not apply to a clinic operating in federal waters off the Gulf Coast.

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There could still be a risk of legal challenges against PRROWESS, in the form of constitutional law arguments for “extraterritorial application of legislation,” Davies said.

That would be a lawsuit in which states argue that “activity across geographic borders has an impact within its geographic borders,” Davies said, to try to prevent the clinic from operating.

But, except that he personally specializes in maritime law and not constitutional law, Davies suspects that argument, and the costly legal battle associated with it, would fail.

Staying in federal waters is less of a litigation-proof solution than, say, registering the ship in another country and mooring it further up the Gulf Coast, in international waters about 12 nautical miles away. But the legal battle to stay in federal waters isn’t likely to go in favor of the states, Davies said.

The other legal risk to PRROWESS would be if states move to criminalize the act of helping someone travel across state lines for an abortion. But according to Davies, that would raise “issues of constitutional law” that risk criminalizing other trade-related actions.

“I think [the clinic’s plan] it’s likely to work,” Davies said.

Still, Autry and PRROWESS are prepared for any legal challenge that may arise.

“I don’t think you can underestimate the anti-choice attempt to criminalize this at any point along the way,” he said. “I think we’re setting ourselves up for challenges.”

And as they prepare for those legal challenges, the people the clinic plans to serve are top of mind.

“Our number one goal is to protect patients — to protect their privacy, to protect them physically,” Autry said. “It’s unimaginable that in order to get the services you need and deserve, you have to fear for your… anything.”