Could floating clinics be the future of abortion in the United States?

Mary Colurso (TNS)

A California doctor plans to offer abortion services to women in Southern states such as Alabama, via a boat that operates as a floating clinic in federal waters off the Gulf Coast, according to news reports.

Dr. Meg Autry, an OB-GYN in San Francisco, aims to raise about $20 million for the project known as PRROWESS, or Protecting Reproductive Rights of Women Endangered by State Statutes.

“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 in an interview with NBC Bay Area.

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Autry, who’s also a professor at the University of California, San Francisco, said the floating clinic will provide surgical abortions up to 14 weeks, contraception, on-site testing for sexually transmitted infections and more.

Her goal is to offer reproductive services to women in states with laws that ban abortion, limit the procedure or make it hard to access. A team of licensed medical professionals would staff the clinic for about three weeks per month, according to Autry’s plan.

PRROWESS hopes to acquire a donated boat, Autry said, that would be transformed into a floating clinic. Money raised by the project also would be used for ongoing costs such as patient care, security and liability insurance.

Autry said she’s been pondering the idea of a floating clinic for years, but her plans were “accelerated” by the U.S. Supreme Court’s overturn of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 ruling that legalized abortion nationwide.

“I’m a lifelong educator, an abortion and reproductive rights advocate,” Autry said in an interview with KCBS, a San Francisco radio station. “And I strongly, strongly believe in equitable health care, and so this has just kind of been my life’s work.”

The clinic, floating in federal waters in the Gulf of Mexico, would not be subject to abortion restrictions in nearby states, according to the FAQs on the PRROWESS website.

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As a general rule, federal waters begin nine nautical miles from the coast of Texas, and three nautical miles from the coasts of Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi. Patients will be transported to the ship in various ways, depending on the distance, once they pass a pre-screening process.

For women seeking abortions in Southern states, a trip to the floating clinic may be easier than traveling to other states where abortion is legal, the PRROWESS website says.

“Our research indicates that patients are willing to seek care in a floating clinic, and these types of facilities have been used by the military and relief organizations for years,” the PRROWESS website says.

Although Autry and her team say their plans for the floating clinic are legal, they expect backlash and legal challenges from states that have banned or limited abortions.

“We have a very powerful legal team,” Autry told NBC Bay Area. “I’m sure there will be legal barriers and problems at every part of this journey.”