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


LaQuetta Cooper stands in front of a large blue RV parked in an industrial lot across the Mississippi River from St. Louis. It looks a lot like any other motorhome on the road – except for the lettering on the side that says “Mobile Health Clinic”.

A chapter of Planned Parenthood operating in Missouri and Illinois is preparing to open a mobile unit offering abortions in southern Illinois.

Sarah McCammon/NPR

Cooper, director of health care operations for Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis and Southwest Missouri Region, said the vehicle will soon offer abortion pills to Illinois patients, reducing their commute times. approaching them.

“The biggest needs we see are the fact that they have to travel so far to get the care they need,” Cooper said. “It will be useful so that they don’t have to travel three to five hours.”

The RV was delivered this week for a launch in the coming months. Family planning first announced his project to develop unity about a month ago.

Meet patients closer to home

Since the U.S. Supreme Court’s June ruling overturning abortion rights precedent Roe vs. WadeCooper says thousands of patients flocked at the organization’s clinic in southern Illinois after their states have enacted bans on the procedure.

“I didn’t think other states” [abortion rights] would be overthrown so quickly,” she said. “Because of that, we’ve seen a huge uptick, faster than we thought, over the past few months.

As a result, Planned Parenthood officials said they wanted to find a way to expand capacity and make it easier for patients in abortion-banning states to reach them. Many struggle to take time off work, find childcare and cover the cost of travel long distances for appointments.

Planned Parenthood’s new mobile clinic will operate in Illinois, where abortion remains legal, but may move closer to other states.

Inside, the clinic is equipped with two examination rooms – including small examination tables and ultrasound machines. It is one of the few such units across the country that are set up to provide abortions.

Planned Parenthood, including Dr. Colleen McNicholas, left, and LaQuetta Cooper, right, tour staff at the new mobile clinic that will soon provide abortion pills to patients in Illinois.

Planned Parenthood, including Dr. Colleen McNicholas, left, and LaQuetta Cooper, right, tour staff at the new mobile clinic that will soon provide abortion pills to patients in Illinois.

Sarah McCammon/NPR

Around the time of the Supreme Court’s decision, the nonprofit Just the Pill quietly began offering abortion pills in a similar setup in Colorado. Since then, Dr. Julie Amaon, the medical director, says more than 100 patients have received abortion pills from this clinic. She says the ability to move around offers several benefits – especially in the current legal and political climate.

“We can go where the need is greatest, which means less travel for our patients, it means we can adapt quickly to courts, state legislatures and markets,” says Amaon. -up clinics – whatever the next iteration is – is just one thing we’re going to do…to help expand access.”

In addition to offering abortion pills through the mobile clinic in Colorado, Amaon says her organization offers telehealth assessments and mail-in prescriptions to patients in several other states.

Changing rules, changing strategies

With the annulment of Roe v. Wade, anti-abortion rights groups are urging midterm voters to choose candidates who will ban abortion in their states.

Reagan Barklage, national field director for Students for Life of America, is based in the St. Louis area. She says she would like to see lawmakers work to prevent patients in abortion-banning states from seeking the procedure elsewhere.

“I know there are lawmakers working on bills that would prevent women from crossing state lines,” Barklage said. “They’re trying to come up with different strategies to work on that and also ways to stop women from buying [pills] on line.”

Two small examination rooms inside the mobile clinic include examination tables and medical equipment.

Two small examination rooms inside the mobile clinic include examination tables and medical equipment.

Sarah McCammon/NPR

Balancing safety, security and the law

Barklage, whose group promotes anti-abortion candidates and legislation through door-to-door campaigns and lobbying in state capitals, says she is concerned about the safety of patients taking pills. at home.

This concern is unwarranted, says Amaon, who notes that medical abortion has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration over 20 years agoand claims that its mobile patients receive the same assessment and follow-up care as other patients at other clinics or hospitals.

Mobile clinics will operate in the same complex legal landscape as other abortion providers, with a patchwork of different laws from state to state, says Dr. Carole Joffe, a sociologist at the University of California, San Francisco, specializing in reproductive health.

Joffe describes himself as cautiously optimistic that mobile clinics could help close some of the distance for abortion patients in places with new restrictions.

“The reason for my caution, as well as my optimism, is that abortion healthcare is unlike any other branch of healthcare.” Joffe said. “Any initiative taken to increase access to abortion will be welcomed by those who oppose abortion in an attempt to hinder it in various ways.”

Joffe also points to security issues – which can be particularly heightened for mobile units.

It’s also a concern for Just the Pill, according to Amaon, who says the mobile clinic has hired security personnel and installed bullet-proofs in the vans, as a precaution.

“We look at the same issues as a brick and mortar [clinic] would,” she said. “Where can we park our clinic, where we can feel safe where patients don’t have to meet protesters – or if they do, they have a safe route to get there.

Amaon says they pre-screen patients before scheduling an in-person visit and reveal the exact meeting location on the day of the appointment. Planned Parenthood says its new unit is developing similar protocols to protect patient and staff safety.

A potential model in a post-deer world

Dr. Colleen McNicholas, Planned Parenthood’s chief medical officer for the St. Louis and southwestern Missouri area, says she thinks the mobile clinic could be replicated in other parts of the country where neighboring states restrict abortion:

“This unit is really, for us, a demonstration of an act of defiance,” she said. “We’re here, and we’re going to be here, and we’re going to keep showing up for the people who need us.”

Planned Parenthood plans to begin offering abortion pills from the mobile unit later this year and surgical abortions sometime next year, focusing on patients in southern Illinois. Just the Pill has purchased a second mobile clinic and plans to open a third. The group also plans to offer surgical abortions next year and plans to expand from Colorado to Illinois and Minnesota.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To learn more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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