Florida’s 6-week abortion ban will have a ‘snowball effect’ on residents across the South

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Supporters cheer as President Joe Biden speaks about reproductive freedom on Tuesday, April 23, 2024, at Hillsborough Community College in Tampa, Fla.

Supporters cheer as President Joe Biden speaks about reproductive freedom on Tuesday, April 23, 2024, at Hillsborough Community College in Tampa, Fla. Biden is in Florida planning to assail the state's upcoming six-week abortion ban and similar restrictions nationwide.

Phelan M. Ebenhack, AP Photo

Access to abortion care will become even more difficult for people across the Gulf South when a new ban takes effect in Florida on May 1.

In April, the Florida Supreme Court ruled to uphold the state’s preexisting ban on abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. By doing so, it also triggered a law that allows the state to outlaw abortion even earlier — after six weeks of pregnancy, often before people know they are pregnant.

Florida has long been a key hub for abortion access across the South, and abortion rights groups are warning the ban could force more people to stay pregnant against their will.

“I can honestly say Florida was a saving grace,” said Chasity Wilson, the executive director of the Louisiana Abortion Fund, which gives money to residents in the South to travel for abortions.

Florida is the fourth largest abortion provider in the country, behind California, New York and Illinois, according to data from the Guttmacher Institute. Last year, clinics in the state performed more than 80,000 abortions, according to a state health agency.

Before conservative justices appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court by former president Donald Trump helped overturn Roe v. Wade in 2022, Florida had more abortion clinics than Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana combined.

“Florida has always been the refuge,” said Michelle Colon, the executive director of SHERo Mississippi, which funds travel and abortion access for people leaving Mississippi. “It’s a lifesaver.”

‘The timeframe is so short’

Since the Supreme Court overturned Roe, Florida clinics have seen a surge in people traveling from out of state, including from Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, which enacted bans criminalizing nearly all abortions.

“We are pretty much envisioning that almost no one will be traveling into Florida anymore to access abortion,” said McKenna Kelley, a board member with the Tampa Bay Abortion Fund. “The timeframe is so short.”

Timing isn’t just an issue because many don’t know they’re pregnant before six weeks, Kelley added. Florida also has restrictions that require patients to make two visits to a clinic to be eligible for an abortion, and they must be at least 24 hours apart. That timeframe will likely be too short for many Floridians.

“We’re expecting that nearly all of our callers from Florida are going to be going out of state as it is,” Kelley said.

Florida clinics are already beginning to send patients to other states, said Kendra Smith-Parks, a communications manager with Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast. Since Louisiana and Texas banned nearly all abortions, the nonprofit has been helping people cover the costs of traveling out of state, including to Florida.

Smith-Parks said one client had an appointment scheduled for the end of April — before the ban is set to take effect — but the clinic called to cancel it soon after the decision.

“The clinic already had to move appointments up or direct patients to other states,” she said.

People traveling for abortions have a range of complicated needs, Smith-Parks said. She listed off a dozen scenarios: One patient was in ICE custody, had been trafficked and didn’t speak English. Another patient was on the run from an abusive partner. A third lacked child care for her medically complex toddler. A fourth had limited resources, survived rape and incest and needed to end her pregnancy.

Where will patients go now?

Everyone who would have gone to Florida — and most people in Florida — will flood into the remaining states where abortion is still legal, places like California and Virginia, said Colon.

“It’s a snowball effect,” she said. “That’s the strategy and the outcome that anti-abortion lawmakers and activists have wanted. They will not be content until abortion is outlawed within this country.”

Like the Louisiana Abortion Fund and Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast, SHERo helps people travel from the South for abortions. They help cover the costs, including clinic fees, travel, childcare, food, and other expenses. Altogether, abortions can cost as much as $2,000 or more.

Colon said Florida’s ban will only make abortions more expensive and difficult.

“It means more money, more time away from their family, more time away from their jobs [and] more stress,” she said.

Last year, the Louisiana Abortion Fund gave out over $1 million to clients, averaging $1,316 per person. Callers lived in Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi, Florida, Arkansas, Alabama and Georgia. Wilson said even that amount wasn’t enough to meet their patients’ needs.

“We’re running out of funds by Wednesday, or any given week,” Wilson said. “Even if we aren’t able to fund you directly, I’ll be damned if we’re not on the phones, contacting partners trying to figure out what we can do.”

What the future holds

Colon said Florida’s ban will be most damaging for people who can’t travel to other states where abortion remains legal.

“Not everybody can go to Illinois, not everybody’s going to be able to make it to the Carolinas, to Virginia,” she said. “It means that they will most likely be forced to become a parent [and] endure a pregnancy and childbirth against their will.”

Others might order abortion pills online and have them delivered by mail. States with abortion bans have seen dramatic rises in people ordering pills online through telemedicine organizations, online retailers and community networks providing the pills for free.

When Florida’s Supreme Court upheld the state’s six-week ban, it also allowed a proposed constitutional amendment to appear on the ballot. In November, Florida voters will have a chance to establish a right to abortion in Florida’s constitution.

Abortion advocates said this gives them hope that, in the long run, abortion access could be preserved in Florida. The vote, however, won’t help people who need abortions now.

This story was produced by the Gulf States Newsroom, a collaboration between Mississippi Public BroadcastingWBHM in Alabama, WWNO and WRKF in Louisiana and NPR

 

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