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Doctor wants to open floating abortion clinic in the Gulf of Mexico

·4 min read

A doctor plans to open a floating health clinic in the Gulf of Mexico where women can get surgical abortions. PRROWESS, which stands for Protecting Reproductive Rights of Women Endangered by State Statutes, will offer reproductive health and wellness services, including contraception as well as surgical abortion up to 14 weeks.

The clinic will serve patients who live primarily in Texas, Louisiana and other states located on the Gulf Coast, with a goal of operating for approximately three weeks out of each month, according to the organization's website.

"The vessel will be Coast Guard inspected and will have helicopter access for transport and emergencies," the organization says. These types of facilities have been used by the military and relief organizations for years and the organization says research shows patients are willing to seek care in a floating clinic.

The clinic will operate in federal waters so its activities will not be restricted by state laws.

The Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last month, meaning many states can now restrict or ban access to abortions. Because it is often difficult for people to access care in Gulf states and flying out of state might not be an option for all patients, PRROWESS aims to offer faster services for those people.

Once a patient is pre-screened, arrangements will be made to transport them to the floating clinic, the organization says.

"This is all about bodily autonomy and choice, and so people have a right to be pregnant and also not to have a pregnancy," Dr. Meg Autry, of the University of California—San Francisco, told CBS San Francisco.

Autry, who is vice chair of graduate medical education and continuing medical education for the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences at UCSF, wants to offer the services at low or no cost.

The vessel, however, is expected to cost at least $20 million, and the organization is looking for donations, including a donated boat.

"People that care deeply about access to reproductive rights know that we have to be innovative and creative in order for patients to be able to continue to have access," she told CBS San Francisco. "We know internationally that when access is limited or abortion is illegal, patients die."

She hopes to open the floating clinic in about a year, but knows there will be challenges. "There's operational, logistics, there's the whole idea of maritime law and then there's obviously security, there's liability, I mean the challenges are countless," Autry said.

If the project is not successful, any remaining money will be distributed to other projects addressing access to abortion, the organization says.

The clinic will also offer on-site testing for sexually transmitted infections, STI treatment, vaccination as well as some social services.

CBS News has reached out to Autry and representatives at the organization for further comment and is awaiting response.

Thirteen states, including Texas and Louisiana have so-called "trigger" laws that would restrict abortion with Roe overturned, while others would kick in after 30 days. Some states, like Alabama, have laws enacted before the landmark 1973 decision that were never removed.

On Friday, President Biden signed an executive order aimed at protecting access to abortion. The actions the president outlined are intended to try to mitigate some potential penalties women seeking abortion may face after the ruling but are limited in their ability to safeguard access to abortion nationwide.

Specifically, the executive order asks the Justice Department to do everything within its power to protect women seeking abortion, including protecting women's right to travel to another state for an abortion and to protect access to Food and Drug Administration-approved abortion drugs.

The order also directs the Health and Human Services Department to ensure all women and girls experiencing pregnancy loss receive the emergency care they need, no matter what state they're in. The executive order also protects access to contraception and expands access to free contraception, Mr. Biden said.

Mr. Biden blasted the court's decision and urged Americans to vote for candidates in November who support abortion rights legislation.

In an interview with CBS News chief election and campaign correspondent Robert Costa, Vice President Kamala Harris said when the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, it deprived American women of "a constitutional right."

"I think all of us share a deep sense of outrage that the United States Supreme Court took a constitutional right that was recognized, took it from the women of America," she said. She added, "We are now looking at a case where the government can interfere in what is one of the most intimate and private decisions that someone can make."

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