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Calif. OBGYN Launches Project to Offer Abortions Aboard a Vessel Off the Gulf of Mexico

A California OB-GYN is organizing an effort to provide abortion services and reproductive health care to women in states bordering the Gulf of Mexico by anchoring a floating clinic off the coast on federal waters.

Dr. Meg Autry, who is also a professor at the University of California San Francisco campus, is helming the project to launch the vessel in response to last month’s Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.

Protecting Reproductive Rights of Women Endangered by State Statutes, or PRROWESS, plans to offer reproductive health care to women in states where abortions are banned, limited, or hard to access.

In an interview with NBC Bay Area, Autry noted that people living in southern parts of states with restrictive abortion rules like Texas and Louisiana, are actually closer to the coast than to nearby states with more abortion access. Additionally, it is less expensive to board a boat than buying a plane ticket to another state.

A local OBGYN, who’s also a UCSF professor, is planning to take a boat to the Gulf of Mexico, parking it in federal waters, and turning it into a floating clinic that will offer reproductive health care, including abortions. NBC Bay Area’s Janelle Wang spoke to her about her plans.

Autry has performed abortions for decades and refers to herself as “a lifelong educator, a lifelong career abortion advocate.”

“It is my life’s work,” she said.

“Part of the reason we’re working on this project so hard is because wealthy people in our country are always going to have access [to abortions], so once again it’s a time now where poor, people of color, marginalized individuals, are gonna suffer –and by suffering I mean like lives lost,” Autry said.

She explained that this ship will operate on federal waters — nine miles from the coast of Texas and three from the coast of Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi — where it can evade those states’ abortion restrictions. PRROWESS will arrange for patients to be transported to the ship, which will vary depending on where they are coming from, once they pass a pre-screening process.

Autry and a team of licensed medical professionals will offer surgical abortions for up to 14 weeks of pregnancy. The PRROWESS team would also offer other point-of-care gynecological services such as testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections.

“The project is being funded with philanthropy and the patients care is on a needs basis, so most individuals will pay little to nothing for services,” Autry said.

Stacy Cross, president of Planned Parenthood Mar Monte, which offers services in California and Nevada, said it’s not surprising that health care providers are teaming up to offer services on the seas.

Cross explained that the abortion service provider community has been preparing for the possibility of a post-Roe world for some time now and that, “over the years we’ve talked about things like boats on federal waters out past the 5-mile line.”

“It’s just it’s a testament to the time we’re in, because its really horrific that we’re having to think of these things in the United States of America, how to keep people safe,” Cross said.

Several California Planned Parenthood chapters told NBC Bay Area that demand from out-of-state patients at California clinics has actually been up for months already due to policies in other states.

“I think people are going to be as creative as possible, the people who have the funds are getting on planes and flying, we’re seeing other people drive here,” Cross said.

Autry’s organization is still raising money to secure a ship and retrofit it for medical use. Once that happens, she says they’ll put the captain, crew and medical team aboard and set sail.

Autry and her team maintain the process is legal in federal waters. Still, they expect legal challenges from those states every step of the way. The PRROWESS team has already tapped multiple lawyers to help them as they continue with this voyage.

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