Under Florida's newly enacted abortion ban, it is illegal to get an abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy, with no exceptions for victims of rape, incest, or human trafficking.
If the state's Republicans follow through on their threats, they might not stop there, Floridians who need abortions might be forced to travel hundreds of miles to North Carolina, Virginia, or Delaware in order to undergo the procedure.
Or, if Dr. Meg Autry, an obstetrician-gynecologist and professor at the University of California at San Francisco, has her way, they might not. Autry has floated the idea of an offshore reproductive health clinic in the Gulf of Mexico that would serve abortion seekers in surrounding states that have bans or restrictions in place.
The project, dubbed Protecting Reproductive Rights of Women Endangered by State Statute (PRROWESS), already has a website, wherein it notes, "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" — a reference to the floating hospitals operated by the U.S. Navy.
Word of Autry's project emerged in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court's overturning of the landmark Roe v. Wade abortion-access case earlier this month. While Florida isn't one of the 13 U.S. states with so-called trigger laws that immediately banned abortions when Roe v. Wade fell on June 24, many expect the state will ban the procedure if the 2022 midterm elections solidify Republican control in the state legislature and the governor's mansion.
In other words, pregnant Floridians may not require a service like PRROWESS now, but that may well change.
Autry tells New Times she launched the project to "provide services for individuals who are most affected by the assault on their bodily autonomy," because she believes current efforts to help those people are not meeting their needs.
According to its website, PRROWESS intends to operate a boat in the Gulf of Mexico for several weeks each month, offering free and low-cost surgical abortions onboard to people up to 14 weeks pregnant, as well as emergency contraception and sexually transmitted infection (STI) testing and treatment. The vessel will be U.S. Coast Guard-inspected, piloted by a captain and crew, staffed with a team of licensed healthcare providers, and equipped with helicopter access for emergencies.
"Our goal is to be operating in the Gulf of Mexico for approximately three weeks out of each month, with flexibility built in depending on demand, weather conditions, and vessel maintenance," the site states.
In an interview with Slate, Autry said the boat will be based "somewhere where access is legal" and will be located within three to nine miles from the shore at each area it serves, depending on the state. Asked how patients will be transported to the floating clinic, she declined to say, citing security concerns.
Neither the project's release date nor other details, including how patients will be able to schedule appointments for its services in the future, have been released. Autry says this will all depend on when the organization secures a boat.
She previously estimated that it could cost around $20 million to get the project up and running. The nonprofit is accepting donations via its website.