Volunteer pilots fly patients out of state for reproductive care - TAI News
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A month before the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June 2022, Elevated Access, a nonprofit based in Illinois, began connecting volunteer pilots with patients needing reproductive health care they couldn’t receive in their home states.

Similar to providers of angel flights, charitable flights provided to patients who need to travel to clinics for medical care or organ donations or to relocate in cases of domestic violence, Elevated Access uses a network of over 1,000 pilots with single-engine planes to take patients from states with restrictive abortion bans to states where they can get the care they need.

Elevated Access was founded by a civilian, noncommercial general aviation pilot named Mike. No one in the organization uses their last names in their work due to the threats they began receiving when the flights started.

The planes fly out of small airports, some of which are open to the public and some that are private.

Fiona, a spokesperson for Elevated Access, told the Michigan Independent that smaller airports don’t require that passengers show identification, and there are no TSA screenings. She added that most of the airports Elevated Access pilots use are rural and said that most Americans live 30 minutes or less from a smaller airport. 

“Literally, we can just get in the plane and fly and tell no one. That’s how free general aviation is in the U.S. So it’s very unique,” Fiona said. “So when you’re dealing with situations where you’ve got people who are worried about anonymity, and privacy, and potential lawsuits, etc., being able to just go anywhere and not tell anybody who you are, and what you’re doing is a big plus.”

Fiona said most of Elevated Access’ passengers come from low-income communities, are Black or brown, and more than half have never flown on a plane before.

“This is practically door-to-door service. You drive 15 minutes from your house. You’re met in the parking lot by a pilot. He or she walks you to your seat on the plane,” Fiona said, adding that after a flight, one client said, “I felt like Beyonce, a VIP experience.”

Many of the pilots are military veterans, use their own planes, and pay for the gas out of pocket, Fiona said. On average, the fuel costs them between $400 and $700 per round-trip flight.

Tim, a full-time salesperson, is one of Elevated Access’s volunteer pilots. He calls himself a “girl dad” with three daughters. In fact, it was one of his daughters who told him about a pilot on TikTok from Wisconsin who was working with Mike to launch Elevated Access. Tim said he immediately contacted the organization. 

“When you’re sick, you come down with cancer, you don’t know who the primary specialist is, right? Well, the same thing: You don’t go around expecting to need abortion services or find the need for transgender services until all of a sudden, you need it. And where do you go? Well, now, a lot of people’s options are restricted, and the only way to get there is to get there in an airplane,” Tim said.

Tim began receiving death threats after he was featured in an interview with the BBC after Roe v. Wade was overturned and has’ been forced to block his phone number and his address that are associated with his plane’s tail number with the FAA. He said he has cameras all around his house and has notified his local sheriff to monitor his home and family.

Acknowledging he’s aware that “there’s somebody out there that could do harm to me,” Tim said: “You think you’re doing God’s will? So do I. Wars have been fought, with both sides thinking they’re doing God’s will. Only one side can. And I think I’m on the right side.”

Tim has flown six flights, or “missions” as he called them, carrying patients from the southern part of the country to northern cities where abortion care is safe and legal. 

He said he’s flown single moms and teenagers, and every passenger is important.

“There’s the old parable: Why do you throw the starfish back into the sea? There’s so many laying here on the beach. Well, it mattered to that one,” Tim said. “And that’s the way I feel. There’s so many people that need our care. I just wish we could provide it to more.”

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The Michigan Independent is a project of American Independent Media, a 501(c)(4) organization whose mission is to use journalism to educate the public, giving them the information they need about local and federal issues.