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Boats, planes and automobiles: Projects aim to travel around restrictive state abortion laws

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Texas Right to Life President John Seago said he is “absolutely opposed” to the idea of ​​an abortion clinic off the coast of his state, a California doctor’s idea to allow access to an area otherwise surrounded by states with restrictive laws. laws.

“If you have nonprofit organizations that help and encourage or provide the funds for an abortion, even though the major action is being done outside our jurisdiction, we will encourage the Attorney General and other prosecutors to take it seriously.” said Seago.

Florida, Mississippi and Texas attorneys general did not respond to requests for comment.

And helping facilitate an offshore abortion could be criminalized in Texas, “even if the state doesn’t have the power to directly regulate the abortion provider,” said Michael Sturley, a professor of maritime law at the University of Texas.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if … an attempt was made to criminalize leaving the state, whether it be a more progressive state or an offshore facility, to get an abortion, Sturley said.

Still abortion rights proponents continue and appear to have found legal solutions that, for now, stand in the way of anti-abortion rights groups.

Elevated Access, which aims to transport abortion patients and people in need of gender-affirming care from states with restrictive laws, went live this spring. It has transported only one patient but has recruited 800 interested pilots, according to the organization’s executive director Mike, who declined to give his last name because he fears he could be the target of physical or verbal abuse.

Mike said there are loopholes protecting his initiative and volunteer pilots. Though he declined to specify what they might be for fear an abortion opponent would shut them down, he informs interested pilots about any “grey areas” and potential legal issues – “so they can make their own kind of risk assessment, just as they would assess the risk of the weather.”

There’s also plausible deniability built into the model, as Elevated Access plans to also fly people who don’t want an abortion.

A spokesperson for the National Right to Life Committee opposes increased access, acknowledging that it is “naturally legal for people to fly between states and for others to pay for the travel.”

“It is reasonable to ask whether Elevated Access will also fly needy cancer patients outside of state facilities that provide advanced cancer care or whether they will fly needy children to specialized children’s hospitals,” the spokesperson added. “The answer is undoubtedly no.”

At the launch of his project, Mike spoke with Air Care Alliance, a larger organization that provides volunteer pilots for medical treatment and other emergency flights, he said. But he decided to start his own organization because he believes pilots are politically conservative, and that those who help cancer patients are not necessarily inclined to sign his idea.

Alison Dreith, director of strategic partnerships at Midwest Access Coalition, helped coordinate Elevated Access’s first flight: A woman traveling from Oklahoma, who passed a new law in May restricting access to abortion, needed a lift to an clinic in Kansas. Dreith said the process was in some ways more anonymous than going through commercial airport security, as the patient was guided directly to a private plane by a pilot.

“Looking at the radar and just seeing all the little dots on the screen…when our client was in the air — nobody knows who has an abortion appointment, who has a client on their plane,” Dreith said. “It’s just thousands of little dots in the sky.”

In Colorado, abortion provider Just the Pill opened its first mobile abortion clinic in June: a van for drug-induced abortions.

An Anti-Abortion Lawyer in the Adjacent State of Utah Said There’s “Not Much We Can Do” [the clinic].”

“It takes up our entire bandwidth to deal with what’s happening in our state,” said Mary Taylor, president of Pro-Life Utah. Instead, Taylor’s organization will likely continue to focus on public messaging about the risks of drug abortion.

Americans United for Life general counsel Steven Aden said the anti-abortion movement would generally be “ill advised” to challenge attempts to change the right to travel between states in response to abortion access projects in the United States. different states.

Just the Pill has not confirmed where it has stationed the clinic, but patients in “several states bordering Colorado” have sought help, a spokesman said.

The abortion provider had seen about 50 patients at its first mobile clinic late last week, the spokesperson said. They plan to open a second mobile clinic in Colorado later this summer, according to Julie Amaon, primary care physician and director of Just the Pill.

The organization has also raised $175,000 for a third clinic, in Illinois, estimated to cost $500,000 and open in 2023, Amaon said.

Meg Autry, the obstetrician-gynecologist trying to open an abortion clinic in the Gulf of Mexico, wants to raise $20 million to buy and modify a ship, possibly a cruise ship or luxury yacht, she said. The clinic could start taking patients as early as 2023, according to its own “optimistic” estimate.

“We are a country of innovative, creative people who will work hard to do the right thing,” Autry said. “The people who get access are really going to help the people who need it most.”

Autry teamed up with The Lawyering Project, which aims to broaden access to abortion, to launch her idea.

“It’s perfectly legal to offer abortion services on the ocean, and that’s because abortion is regulated almost uniformly at the state level,” said Amanda Allen, executive director of The Lawyering Project.

More generally, people have a constitutional right to give others truthful information about their options and cross state lines, said Andrew Koppelman, a law professor at Northwestern University. Koppelman has argued in law review articles that abortion should be understood as protected under the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery.

“What you’re actually seeing now is the functional equivalent of the old pre-Civil War underground railroad,” he said.

But unlike America under the Fugitive Slave Act, “her home state cannot stop her. And the state she flees to is under no obligation to return her. And that is extremely frustrating for opponents of abortion.”

Opponents would have to change the fixed law “radically” to nullify that right, Koppelman said.

However, Koppelman added: “This court clearly has sympathy for those people. And we’ll have to find out how sympathetic they are.”

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