Planned Parenthood officials on Monday announced plans for a mobile abortion clinic — a 37-foot RV that will stay in Illinois but travel near the borders of neighboring states that have banned the procedure since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v Wade earlier this year.
The announcement came 100 days after the Supreme Court ruled that it removed constitutional protections for abortion, allowing states to ban the procedure. Illinois did not enact an abortion ban, but neighboring Missouri, Kentucky, and Tennessee did, along with many other states in the South and Midwest.
As a result, both abortion clinics on the Illinois side of the St. Louis area, including one operated by Planned Parenthood in Fairview Heights, have been flooded with patients. Planned Parenthood’s St. Louis office leaders said that since June, the Fairview Heights clinic has seen a 30 percent increase in abortion patients — a rate that officials said was even higher than they expected. Patients outside of Missouri and Illinois increased by more than 340%.
The onslaught of patients means longer waits. Yamelsie Rodriguez, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis and Southwest Missouri Region, said the wait time for an abortion appointment has increased from four days before the Supreme Court ruling to two and a half weeks.
“The mobile abortion clinic is a way to reduce travel times and distances to see patients at the Illinois border,” said Dr. Colleen McNicholas, chief medical officer of Planned Parenthood’s St. Louis office. “This will have a dramatic impact on their access.”
The mobile clinic will travel near the borders of southeast Missouri, western Kentucky and northeast Tennessee. Rodriguez said the RV is expected to arrive this month and should be operational by the end of the year.
The clinic will include two exam rooms, a laboratory and a waiting room. Initially, it will provide medical abortions up to 11 weeks of pregnancy. Planned Parenthood will aim to begin providing surgical abortions at the clinic after the first few months.
McNicholas and Rodriguez declined to discuss safety and security measures for the mobile clinic.
The National Right to Life Commission, which opposes abortion, did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment.
Other efforts have been launched across the country to increase access to abortion.
The nonprofit Just The Pill operates a mobile clinic in Colorado that provides medical abortions. Spokeswoman Kat Mavengere said that early next year, also in Colorado, Just The Pill will operate a mobile procedural abortion clinic. The organization also plans to expand into other areas, starting with a mobile clinic in Illinois in 2023.
In July, a California doctor proposed a floating abortion clinic in the Gulf of Mexico as a way to preserve access for people in southern states where abortion bans have been enacted. Dr. Meg Autry said the idea was to set up a clinic on a ship in federal waters, and away from state laws.
Some Democratic-led cities like St. Louis, meanwhile, have set aside money to help pregnant women travel to states where abortions are legal.