In the two dystopian months since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, reproductive rights supporters have been desperate for any positive news on the abortion front. Stories are pouring out by the day of pregnant people forced into unimaginable situations. So when a mysterious abortion boat appeared out of nowhere off the coast of Texas in July, claiming to have already provided dozens of abortions in federal waters, a lot of people needed it to be a hero.
That boat, run by a for-profit company called Abort Offshore, claimed it could offer abortions up to 20 weeks in the Gulf of Mexico, immune to state laws. And it started doing so, apparently, at a rapid clip: On July 23, Abort Offshore announced that it had done 34 abortions as a test. By August 3, it claimed to have provided more than 100 procedures. And just 10 days later, the company tweeted that it had performed nearly 200 legal abortions for women from Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama.
Abortion advocates and providers, meanwhile, weren’t convinced. Abort Offshore’s website demands a cash payment in full—$1,500 to $2,200, depending on gestation—just to secure an appointment. And more concerningly, it’s quite difficult to establish a legitimate, medically sound abortion clinic on a boat in such a short amount of time. OB-GYN Meg Autry announced just a week before Abort Offshore entered the scene that she’d been working on plans to launch a similar boat to serve Gulf Coast patients—and she is still trying to raise the $20 million she needs to cover the vessel, security, liability insurance, patient care, etc; before she can even begin.
So how did someone launch a full abortion boat within weeks, and why had virtually no one in the field heard of him before?
The president of Abort Offshore is Michael Kimbro, a 47-year-old former mortgage broker who lives between Texas and New York City. And he is, I learned, exactly the kind of abortion provider one would expect to pop up in a growing void of safe, legal options, where patients are desperate. Kimbro has no experience in any field even adjacent to abortion.
According to public records, he’s registered dozens of random businesses (though he told me he’s only registered eight)—including a furniture company named “Orbmik,” which is his last name spelled backwards—and has racked up a laundry list of fraud accusations and online complaints from customers. And he appears to be currently serving a five-year probation in Texas for charges related to moving money from one of his companies to another.
Kimbro was, at least, honest about most of this in phone and email exchanges with me and readily admitted that he’s been arrested on fraud charges and sued “many, many times.”
“I have been arrested and detained but never been processed into jail,” he explained in one email. “Most importantly, I have also never been convicted of any crime. I have run afoul of the law several times and have a few dozen complaints from thousands of customers my companies have served.” He disputed that he’s currently on probation, despite his criminal history from Harris County, Texas, suggesting otherwise: “My cases remain unadjudicated but fall within the responsibility of the probation department. My answer remains that I haven’t been convicted of any crimes.”
When I asked him the obvious question of why, in light of his history, any pregnant person should trust him with their health care, he said, “I am making myself a target, my face, and my name, so yes, I think that alone deserves credit.”
In other words, Kimbro seems to know he’s a walking red flag who has no business running an offshore abortion clinic. But people with unwanted pregnancies are increasingly desperate right now and running out of options, and he claims to have found a way, however flawed, to provide what they need. And it wasn’t too hard for him to do, he said, practically scoffing at Autry’s fundraising endeavor for a bigger boat. “I could probably give abortions on the moon if I had a couple of years and twenty million dollars.”
This is the reality of post-Roe America, and plenty of people will certainly be willing to board this man’s abortion boat. So let’s look at what, exactly, it is.
Kimbro described the Abort Offshore experience on the phone to me as such: Patients are told to show up at a particular hotel the morning of the procedure. There, a nurse hands them a pre-abortion Valium (he later backtracked in an email and said patients bring their own Valium). A private driver takes them to one of several coastal rental homes with private docks, where a small boat carries them to a larger boat in federal waters. An abortion provider performs the procedure in a state room below deck with portable gynecological tables. Then the patients take a small boat back to a different rental home than the first—to avoid suspicion—and a driver returns them to the hotel.
Kimbro says he employs two abortion providers and their physician’s assistants, all of whom are licensed in Texas, though the nurse in the hotel room is not. I asked to speak to at least one provider, and Kimbro said he would try but ultimately couldn’t connect me with either. He did give me the phone numbers of four of Abort Offshore’s alleged abortion patients, two of whom I spoke with on the phone.
Melissa said she’s a 42-year-old woman who already has a child and couldn’t remain pregnant for health reasons, and Jaime described herself as a 24-year-old nanny whose job made her realize she isn’t ready to be a parent. Neither woman would give me her last name—even off the record—citing a fear of prosecution in Texas, so I was unable to verify their identities.
Jaime, from Houston, told me she was nervous about the legality of the whole thing, but “didn’t really have another choice,” as she doesn’t have paid time off from her job and couldn’t travel out of state. She said her boyfriend directed her to Abort Offshore, and when she asked them about a payment plan, they offered her a discount. It looked like the best and maybe only option for her. “There’s just absolutely no way I could have a baby right now,” she said.
Melissa said she found out she was pregnant in July, and a nurse who works in her doctor’s office gave her the phone number for Abort Offshore. “I looked into driving to another state, I looked into all my options. But at the end of the day, I thought to myself, ‘How in the heck am I gonna come up with some cover story, when I’m lying to everybody I know?’” she said, referring to her husband and teenage son.
Both women said they took a Valium in the hotel, got into an SUV with other women, and rode in silence to the house with a private dock. “We all just sat there. It wasn’t like a social event,” Jaime said. “I think we all just wanted it to be over.” There, they boarded a boat that took them to the larger vessel where they had their abortions.
“It was very James Bond, I can tell you that,” Melissa said. “I had taken a Valium, and so I was a lot calmer than probably I would have normally been.” But overall, she said she was pleased with her care. “They just called girls down two at a time, and everything was just as you would expect. Kosher. Like going to your doctor’s office and sitting on the doctor’s bed and getting a Pap smear.”
Jaime said she waited on a couch until they called her name to go to the procedure room downstairs. “I just went into the room, everything was white and covered. That table thing was there,” she said of the table with stirrups. “Having to do all this was annoying I guess, if I need to find a word,” she said, “but I’m happy that it all went well.”
Kimbro says Abort Offshore can see about eight patients a day and he has no plans to grow any bigger. His plan, he claims, is to draw lawsuits that could result in judges blocking Gulf State abortion bans—though any lawsuits targeting Abort Offshore would not lead to a merits review of the Texas abortion ban, or any other state ban. Kimbro could argue in legal filings that the Texas ban doesn’t apply to his operation in federal waters, but if a judge agrees, an injunction blocking the law would apply only to his boats, not abortion clinics on shore.
He described the operation as “legal enough to operate” and said that eight abortions a day is “not going to do anything” for the larger access crisis. “I felt like this was the least illegal thing to do that we could protect ourselves, that would at least draw the ire of the state,” he said.
Kimbro reiterated several times that his goal is to get sued, not to make money; he said the operation is too small to be profitable, anyway. The company wrote in an August 9 tweet before it was deleted: “We do our best to provide our patients the best care possible, but our main goal is to draw attention to how absurd it is that women even have to get on a boat to have an abortion.”
Abort Offshore’s FAQ page says its abortions are legal and “out of reach of state laws.” Its partner page, meanwhile, says it’s looking for pro-bono legal services, because it “will inevitably encounter various high-profile legal challenges.” Kimbro says he expects to get arrested. “I’ve never gone on the boat with patients, intentionally, because I fully expect one day I’m going to get arrested when I land in Houston,” he said.
But this strategy creates legal risks for providers and patients, especially in a state like Texas, which has a bounty-hunter law on the books allowing private citizens to sue people for at least $10,000 for aiding or abetting abortions. And despite Abort Offshore’s stated cash policy and promise of “complete patient anonymity,” Kimbro admits that a few people have paid by check or Zelle, which poses some risk to them. “The women that we’ll take checks from or that we’ll do as Zelle are just as pissed off about the situation as us, and they don’t care,” he said. Abort Offshore’s patient registration form is not even HIPAA compliant, like the intake forms on telemedicine abortion sites Abortion on Demand, Just the Pill, and Hey Jane. Kimbro said “We, as a company, do not save or keep patient registrations.”
When I asked Autry, the doctor raising money for an abortion boat, for comment on Abort Offshore, she said only: “While I don’t want to comment about the organization or its proprietor, I will say that PRROWESS has been working on this idea for years and includes extensive legal and operational support.”
There appear to be some safety issues with Abort Offshore, as well. Since Kimbro never connected me with his providers, I sent a list of medical questions for them to answer, including what type of pre-abortion antibiotics they use, what emergency medications they have on board, and what their emergency protocol is. He responded that they don’t use preventive antibiotics, don’t have any emergency medications on board, and the protocol if there are complications offshore is to contact the Coast Guard and 911 if onshore.
These are red flags. Administering preventive antibiotics is widely considered to be a best practice for procedural abortions, especially in the second trimester, to help reduce the risk of infection. And providers are supposed to have on hand at least two types of drugs known as uterotonics, which make the uterus contract, to help control bleeding in the case of complications. Not having these medications available could put patients’ lives at risk. When asked about these best practices, he said: “I think abortions should be legal and should occur under the supervision of trained medical professionals. Additionally, I believe a woman should be able to choose her abortion provider based on published and verified reviews. I think it’s a travesty that anything to the contrary is occurring.”
Kimbro doesn’t seem particularly interested in following industry rules or gaining any kind of legitimacy. He says he’s funding the whole operation himself, because he’d feel guilty misusing anyone’s donations. “Who’s to say that I’m even running this right?” he said. “I don’t want offshore abortions on 74-foot fishing boats to become normal,” he said. “I don’t want to be certified. I think it’s wrong.”
Kimbro got testy, for the first time, when I pressed him for clarification on some of his past legal troubles. “Are you even angry that abortion is illegal?” he said. “It saddens me, especially given you work for Jezebel, that no matter what you write about me, I will win, and women will continue to lose. We could have worked together for change.”
In another moment of honesty, he pointed out that regardless of what people conclude about him, this story will help him get the attention on his abortion boat that was his purpose in launching it. “No matter what you say about me, merely mentioning me accomplishes my goal,” he wrote. “You can say I’m a fraud; you can even say I’m fake and have made this all up; it still fills the SEO.”