Michael Kimbro wants his “conservative friends” to know he is white and that, while he was raised in Texas, he now lives in Manhattan with his “third, much younger, wife.” These are details Kimbro shared in a now-deleted blog post to convince others they should embrace the pro-abortion rights cause – or risk being “tricked into the lawlessness that took over New York City.”
Kimbro is president of Abort Offshore, a for-profit company that claims to offer abortions aboard a fishing boat off the Gulf Coast. Operating in federal waters, he believes the company is immune from state laws in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama that prohibit most abortions. In an “open letter to journalists” posted on the Abort Offshore website, Kimbro claimed 242 “legal abortions” had been performed by his company as of last Sunday. An Aug. 13 tweet from Abort Offshore listed the number of abortions at 188.
Abortion rights proponents question the veracity of Kimbro’s claims and whether the purported offshore abortions are performed under widely accepted medical or safety standards.
The Louisiana Illuminator has been unable to independently verify any of Kimbro’s claims about the clinic, including whether it exists. Kimbro initially offered a tour of the boat but walked back the offer in a public blog post. He also declined to provide the names of the physicians he worked with, even on background, so their licenses could be verified.
Kimbro posted his appeal to conservative friends Aug. 17 on the Abort Offshore website then abruptly deleted it by that evening. Evidence of the post still exists in the Internet Archive.
“I am neither pro-choice nor pro-life. I am pro-referendum,” Kimbro wrote.
Kimbro argued that Republicans’ grip on Texas is nearly broken. In order to save the state from New York City’s fate – one of a city subjected to decriminalization of non-violent crime and bail reform – southern states need to hold voter referendums on abortion, much like the one Kansas held this month.
“I ask all the Texans out there reading this, do you want to end up like New York City? And to the GOP leaders down there, do you expect conservative women to give up their reproductive rights? Are you willing to risk turning the state blue?” Kimbro pleaded in the post.
Stephen Handwerk, a Louisiana-based consultant who works with the Association of Democratic Governors, questions the effectiveness of Kimbro’s strategy.
“I am not surprised to see conservatives twisting in the wind to try to pretzel logic themselves into protecting their candidates,” Handwerk said. “I don’t see it working for them.”
In an interview after the blog post was deleted, Kimbro conceded that his strategy was doomed.
“I didn’t know enough about politics or any of it going into it,” Kimbro said. “You can’t even have a referendum in Texas, I realized well after the fact, without the legislature approving it.”
Abortion, and the politics surrounding it, is new to Kimbro. Until just a few weeks ago, he said had never been involved with the abortion industry. When contacted for comment by the Illuminator, established figures in the reproductive justice movement in Louisiana had heard little to nothing about Kimbro or Abort Offshore.
Kimbro claimed Abort Offshore began offering abortions in mid-July, just weeks after he decided to start what he thought would be a profitable venture.
Here’s how Kimbro explained the operation: Patients fill out an online form and pay $1,500 before they can secure an appointment time. They stay at a hotel, the cost of which is included in the $1,500, near an embarkation point on the coast. Kimbro said Abort Offshore has left from multiple points along the coast, including Galveston, Texas, and Dog River in Alabama, outside Mobile.
At the hotel, Kimbro said the patient will see a travel nurse who provides them with a sedative before they are taken to a rented house with a private dock, where the patients board a 73-foot fishing boat.
The fishing vessel takes the patient out to federal waters, where it is met by a smaller boat. Two abortion doctors and two physician assistants, who Kimbro said are licensed in Texas, board the fishing vessel to perform the abortion, which happens in a stateroom below deck on portable gynecological tables.
There are no regulations to follow for a clinic operating in federal waters, according to Martin Davies, a maritime law professor at Tulane University. While there are still medical negligence laws that apply, there is no oversight to ensure standards of cleanliness or care, he said.
According to a report Jezebel published Aug.15, Abort Offshore doesn’t use preventive antibiotics, doesn’t have access to emergency medications and its plan for emergency complications is to contact the Coast Guard.
In a follow-up interview with the Illuminator following the release of Jezebel’s story, Kimbro said patients take antibiotics provided by their own physicians. He added that he had to be careful what he said about the drugs provided on the vessel or else risk running afoul of the Drug Enforcement Administration.
The online form Abort Offshore patients have to complete does not comply with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, a 1995 federal law intended to protect patients’ sensitive medical information. Generic web forms, like the one Abort Offshore utilizes, are not HIPAA compliant, as they do not provide the level of encryption and security that the law requires.
Unprompted, Kimbro offered contact information for four women he claimed were patients of Abort Offshore. The Illuminator was able to get in contact with two of them but could not verify their identities or whether they had been patients.
The timeline Kimbro detailed to explain how he started his service differs from a comparable publicized endeavor. Dr. Meg Autry, a San Francisco OB-GYN, said it will take over a year and $20 million for her group, Prrowess, outfit an approximately 150 feet long vessel to perform abortions in federal waters.
Kimbro said he was able to start so quickly because he uses a smaller boat and hired doctors who provided their own equipment.
Following the release of Jezebel’s story, Kimbro went on the offensive, attacking Autry’s operation in a blog post and a series of tweets, claiming that Prrowess’ tax-exempt status has been revoked. In a series of screenshots posted to the Abort Offshore blog, a representative with Prrowess told Kimbro that it was a filing error that has since been corrected.
Then there’s the matter of Kimbro’s professional background. While he has never been involved with the abortion industry, Kimbro is linked to a string of businesses that have faced a litany of complaints.
Kimbro admitted to Jezebel that he had been arrested and sued for fraud “many, many times.” In an interview with the Illuminator, Kimbro defended himself, arguing that being sued is a normal part of doing business. He later wrote in a blog post that he has never been convicted of anything.
Abort Offshore’s social media presence also makes it an outlier among providers. Very few abortion clinics use social media, prefering to keep a low profile to avoid the ire of anti-abortion protestors.
Abort Offshore’s Twitter page has accrued more than 1,400 followers in the month since it was created, but the vast majority of which are likely bots according to an analysis of the company’s followers. The analysis shows that most of the account’s followers have never tweeted, have no stated gender or preferred language and are located in Thailand.
Abort Offshore also sent a series of tweets calling out Jezebel’s reporting, all of which say the same thing: “I wonder if you genuinely can’t stand me or if we’re becoming frenemies. Are you upset that my pre-prepared ‘spin’ to your story was that abortion rights deserve a referendum? Do you even care that abortion is illegal? I do – that’s why AbortOffshore provides them.”
The legitimacy of the abortion pill, a commonly used form of abortion and that is considered safe, was also called into question on the Abort Offshore Twitter feed.
“How dumb are you? Legitimizing overseas abortion pills? Just to show you how easy it is to invite fraud, I’m going to create a site, have the pills made at the compound pharmacy on 2nd Ave., say I’m a woman, and act like I’m overseas, You”ll promote it,” Abort Offshore tweeted in response to a Jezebel article about the abortion pill. The tweet was deleted within a few hours.
One tweet attacking the author of the Jezebel report accused the reporter of throwing a “tantrum,” including a photo of a screaming toddler. “Is it because the Abortion Boat is run by a cis man?” the post said.
Kimbro told the Illuminator when he realized the offshore abortion operation wasn’t going to be profitable, he decided he wouldn’t run it forever but just until he gets sued. In the resulting court battle, he would seek to have abortion bans in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama struck down.
State Rep. Mandie Landry, D-New Orleans, is an outspoken abortion rights proponent and was previously an attorney who represented abortion clinics in Louisiana. While she declined to comment on Kimbro’s strategy, she said multiple lawsuits have been filed challenging abortion laws in the South. So far, none have been successful.
Kimbro has since backed down from this strategy, saying that he instead is trying to figure out a way to offer more abortions.
Landry encouraged anyone seeking an abortion to steer clear of Abort Offshore.
“To my knowledge, this brand new entity has not been confirmed as reliable, or to even exist by any known individual or organization,” Landry said. “Please always be cautious when contacting unknown people online and in particular when it comes to health care.”