Florida abortion ban prompts two southern states to prepare for large number of patients

After the Florida Supreme Court cleared the way for the state's ban on abortion after six weeks, clinics in North Carolina and Virginia have said they are preparing for an influx of patients.

Once the law goes into effect on May 1, Florida will no longer be a haven for people seeking abortions throughout the southern United States. The state currently allows abortions up to 15 weeks into a pregnancy, a much less restrictive policy than those implemented in many nearby states, such as Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi, since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in 2022.

More than 9,300 people traveled to Florida from other states to obtain an abortion last year, more than double the number in 2020, according to data from the Guttmacher Institute, a research organization that supports abortion access.

About 84,000 abortions were performed in Florida in 2023, representing about 1 in 12 abortions nationwide.

Starting in May, the closest option for Floridians and others in the South seeking an abortion will be North Carolina, which allows the procedure up to 15 weeks but requires people to receive in-person counseling at least 72 hours in advance. . The next closest option is Virginia.

Abortion clinics in both states They are preparing to welcome more patients, and for this they have added staff or expanded their opening hours. Providers have had time to prepare, as Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed the state's six-week ban in April 2023. Its implementation was pending the state Supreme Court's decision, which took place on Monday.

Bristol Women's Health Center, which offers abortions in southwest Virginia, expanded its hours a few months ago to accommodate people from Florida and other southern states. It has also begun offering services in the evenings and sometimes on weekends.

“It's hard enough for someone who is driving 12 hours,” said Karolina Ogorek, the center's administrative director. “As the state takes away their reproductive health options, as an abortion provider and clinic, we want to give them as many options as possible so they can access the care they need.”

The center also plans to work with funding agencies such as The Pink House Fund in Mississippi to help cover travel and lodging costs for patients who come from afar.

A Woman's Choice, a network of clinics based in Jacksonville, Florida, opened a new clinic in Virginia last month in anticipation of the move in Florida. That clinic is working to add doctors, according to Amber Gavin, the organization's vice president of advancement and operations.

But even so, he explained, demand could turn out to be quite high.

“Florida was experiencing a huge influx of patients from the Southeast, and I am very concerned that neighboring states will not be able to accommodate all Floridians and people from the Southeast,” Gavin said.

Jenny Black, president of Planned Parenthood South Atlantic, also stated that the organization's clinics in North Carolina are offering more appointments. But those centers already have a two-week waiting time for abortions.

“Staff at Planned Parenthood health centers in North Carolina is doing everything it can to rapidly expand capacity and increase appointment availability before the near-total ban takes effect in Florida, but it will not be enough to stem the tide of patients across the South who are left with few options,” Black said in a statement.

For many women, traveling to have an abortion is not an option due to lack of resources or other circumstances.”

Florida clinics anticipated the new state law, so they have already trained additional staff to perform ultrasounds and confirm pregnancies. They are trying to serve as many patients as possible before the end of the month.

“We are opening up more ultrasound appointments scheduled for the next 30 days for people to come in,” explained Michelle Quesada, vice president of communications and marketing for Planned Parenthood of South, East and North Florida.

Quesada warned that starting in May, patients will have to present before six weeks, since Florida law requires two in-person visits to a clinic, 24 hours apart, before an abortion.

“You should find out that you are pregnant in your fifth week of pregnancy, which is one week after you miss your period for someone with a perfect 28-day cycle,” Quesada said.

“I can only imagine in 30 days the enormous volume of patients who are going to be confused, scared, who will feel like they have no choice when they find out they have more than six weeks,” he added.

Florida law allows exceptions for rape, incest and when the mother's life is at risk.

“I think it is okay to abort if the mother's life is in danger. This particular law, this six-week bill, does contemplate it, so there would be no reason to have to travel,” said Ingrid Duran, state legislative director of the National Right to Life Committee, an anti-terrorism organization. abortion.

Duran noted that Florida's ban reserves $25 million to expand the Florida Pregnancy Care Network, a group of centers whose goal is to convince women not to have abortions. These centers offer pregnant women advice and supplies such as baby car seats and diapers, but some are known to provide inaccurate or misleading information.

Duran stated that the funding can help address the lack of access to health care, counseling and support that she believes could be “some of the reasons why women choose to have abortions.”

However, the fate of abortion access in Florida is not set in stone: The state's Supreme Court also decided that a proposed amendment to its Constitution that would enshrine abortion protections can be on the November ballot.

“What we have seen in other states is that when abortion is on the ballot, it wins”Gavin commented.