Sasha-Ann Simons: This is Reset, I'm Sasha-Ann Simons. Illinois will soon have the nation's first mobile abortion clinic. Abortion is legal in Illinois, but we're completely surrounded by states that have either banned abortion or are seeking to restrict access. And since the overturning of Roe v Wade, people have been coming to Illinois for abortion services at a much higher rate - higher than ever. Some clinics are seeing as much as three times as many patients as usual. Now, Planned Parenthood plans to open the country's first mobile abortion clinic. So, what will it look like and how will it serve people coming from out of state? Here to tell us more is Yamelsie Rodríguez, president of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis region in Southwest Missouri. Yamelsie, welcome to Reset.
Yamelsie Rodríguez: Thank you for having me, Sasha.
Sasha-Ann Simons: What led you to decide to build this mobile clinic?
Yamelsie Rodríguez: Well, as soon as the SCOTUS decision came over, we immediately saw an uprise in the number of patients that were seeking care in southern Illinois –– where as you mentioned earlier, we started seeing increases in the number of people that were traveling hundreds of miles to get medication abortion at one of the two only abortion clinics in southern Illinois. Immediately, we started looking at patients data trends and trying to figure out how can we continue to innovate to meet patients where they are and that is what led us to decide to then purchase an RV. It's a 37-foot mobile unit that will travel throughout the southern border. As you know, the surrounding states bordering Illinois have already banned or severely restricted abortion. So our goal here is really to reduce the travel time, increase the access points and ensure that everyone who needs access to medication abortion can get the medication abortion pills in a timely manner.
Sasha-Ann Simons: Wow, that's incredible. So talk to us more about what this mobile clinic will offer, right? You said you're meeting people where they are, which is the starting point of all this.
Yamelsie Rodríguez: That is correct. So we expect the mobile unit to be delivered to us here in southern Illinois later this month. And in the next couple of weeks we're gonna figure out (again, utilizing data and travel patterns) what is the route for the mobile unit will take in order to accommodate as many patients coming from out of state as possible. In addition to that, initially we're planning to offer medication abortion. But in phase two of our launch we will then begin to provide procedural abortions as well via the mobile clinic. And I just want to highlight that while this is the first Planned Parenthood abortion mobile unit in the country, we know that there's other mobile unit providers, specifically Just the Pill, who had who had been providing medication abortion in other parts of the country.
Sasha-Ann Simons: Yeah, I'm thinking of the patient experience, Yamelsie. And will it be as comfortable as a regular clinic? And what about privacy. Will it be as private?
Yamelsie Rodríguez: I think people can expect to receive the same patient experience that Planned Parenthood is known for at our brick and mortar health centers. We have... The unit will have a waiting area. It will have two exam rooms, and over the next couple of weeks we're going to be working on the logistics. Specifically, how are we going to allow allow patients to schedule appointments? The safety and security of both our staff and our patients, it's always our top most priority. And we are going to make sure that everyone that walks through our mobile unit not only has a great patient experience but also feels comfortable inside.
Sasha-Ann Simons: So you're looking to cut travel time for folks who are coming out of state. Are there particular border cities or towns that you're focused on?
Yamelsie Rodríguez: I think we plan on covering the entire southern region of Illinois. Prior to the Dobbs decision, the majority of the patients that were traveling to southern Illinois were coming primarily from Missouri and Tennessee. But as soon as Roe was overturned, we started really seeing an influx of patients coming from anywhere and everywhere from the Midwest and the South. So our goal here is to reduce the amount of time that patients are traveling one way, right? We know people are traveling 600 miles and if we can meet them closer to the border and reduce that travel burden, we will continue to do everything we can to support those patients in need.
Sasha-Ann Simons: Any requests coming in from other clinics just maybe at capacity right now?
Yamelsie Rodríguez: Well, what we saw in the immediate aftermath of the Dobbs decision is this ripple effect where even in our health center we immediately saw wait times going from approximately 3 to 4 days to 2.5 weeks. And we're seeing that across the country as more people have to travel further distances to seek abortion care. So this is an all hands on deck moment. And we are working not just with other Planned Parenthood affiliates across the country but with independent providers to ensure there is a strong network of abortion providers in the state of Illinois, ready to continue to serve this surge of patients that are seeking care here in Illinois.
Sasha-Ann Simons: This is Reset. We are talking about a new mobile abortion clinic that's going to travel around Illinois perimeter with the goal of serving people who are coming here from out of state. And with us is the person in charge of creating that clinic. Yamelsie Rodríguez is president of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis region and southwest Missouri.
You know Yamelsie, the regular abortion clinics they've often got security protocols, right? Because we know that sometimes there are threats from anti abortion activists and extremists. So how will your clinic, which is going to inevitably end up traveling to a lot of new places, how is it going to handle security?
Yamelsie Rodríguez: Yeah. As I mentioned earlier, safety and security at Planned Parenthood, it's our number one priority. And because it is so important to us, we don't disclose or talk about how we take our security measures both at our, you know, brick and mortar health centers and our mobile unit. But what I want to make very clear is that we have taken every security precaution to ensure that people are walking through our doors –– whether that is our Fairview Heights health center or at our abortion mobile unit –– will feel safe and secure. And we do that in a variety of ways, some of which are visible to patients when they walk through our doors and some other ways that are not visible.
Sasha-Ann Simons: But you are having those conversations actively it sounds like.
Yamelsie Rodríguez: We've had this conversation since we started envisioning this project and we continue to work with experts in the field to ensure we can continue to provide high quality care in a safe environment, whether that's going to be you know, in a mobile unit or another health center facility,
Sasha-Ann Simons: This mobile model, do you want that to continue? Do you hope that maybe other clinics in other states continue to recreate that?
Yamelsie Rodríguez: I think that at this critical inflection point in the abortion access landscape, it is critically important for all providers to take some risk, be innovative and ensure we're doing everything we can to expand access to healthcare. So we hope that this is you know, the first one in the Planned Parenthood family, but that we use this opportunity to learn and hopefully expand the use of mobile care throughout the country.
Sasha-Ann Simons: So as you look at the influx of patients in Illinois as we talked about Yamelsie and the restrictions that we're seeing in our neighboring states, what is top of mind for you looking forward?
Yamelsie Rodríguez: You know, I think over the last 100 days we've seen the devastating effects that abortion bans have on everyday people. So, we are concerned about those individuals who are not able to surpass all of the different logistical challenges in order to flee their home state. And that's why we are focusing on centering patients and decision making. We saw the writing on the wall with all of the restrictions in Missouri and decided to open this health center across the border in southern Illinois. Then we saw that even when you have access points available, people still have significant challenges. So then we moved to opening a regional logistics center to ensure that transportation, childcare and financial barriers were not going to be a limitation for people to access care across state lines. And now, we're taking that a step further by offering medication abortion via a mobile unit, so we can continue to serve those that are most affected by abortion bans who we know are low income people, people of color, young people and those that are often most marginalized and oppressed by a racist and discriminatory system.
Sasha-Ann Simons: Very interesting, that was Yamelsie Rodríguez, president of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis area and Southwest Missouri. Thank you so much.
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