After Roe v Wade was overturned, people across the USA have been looking for alternative options should they need an abortion. Many states still allow for legal abortion, and Canada has expressed willingness to open its borders. One doctor has an even more radical approach – a floating abortion clinic that moves through federal waters, thus escaping state laws that ban abortions.
That is exactly the plan, and the non-profit Protecting Reproductive Rights Of Women Endangered by State Statutes (PRROWESS) is currently in the fundraising stage.
“There’s been an assault on reproductive rights in our country and I’m a lifelong advocate for reproductive health and choice. We have to create options and be thoughtful and creative to help people in restrictive states get the health care they deserve,” said Dr Meg Autry, gynaecologist and professor at the University of California San Francisco, in a statement to The Associated Press.
According to the PRROWESS website, those on the southern coast in restrictive states such as Texas and Alabama would be nearer to the boat than a potential land-bound abortion clinic in a legal state, and the fact the boat would reside in federal waters would all them to perform any procedures the patients need.
Alongside surgical abortions up to 14 weeks, the clinic would also provide STI testing and treatment, and contraceptive services that are sorely lacking in some US states, treating up to 20 patients daily.
So, is it something that could actually work? Technically, there is nothing stopping the team from doing so. The US federal government shares jurisdiction over coastal waters, called “state waters”, but only up to 3 nautical miles off the coast before the waters become federal waters (excluding Texas and Florida, which have 9 nautical miles of jurisdiction).
The special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States states that any activity on the high seas must follow federal laws and not state laws, though.
However, rules can get slightly murky, as states like California have imposed state laws on vessels that primarily work in their state – but these were labor laws and not tied to "criminal activity" as an abortion clinic would be described by restrictive states.
Therefore, all PRROWESS needs is the funding and the means to transport patients to the boat, which they are still working on.