close
close

Floridians are heading north for abortions now that the six-week ban is in effect


Florida’s near-total abortion ban is forcing more and more people to travel for care, not to North Carolina, but to Baltimore, Maryland, Washington DC and New York.

play

For three years, Mary has been supporting women who decide to terminate their pregnancies.

But on May 1, the day Florida’s 15-week abortion ban changed to a six-week abortion ban, they stopped asking for help.

Mary, not her real name, is a North Florida doula, a trained professional who supports someone during birth. Her expertise also includes miscarriages and abortion. (She did not want to use her real name for fear of harassment.)

When Florida became the only state in the Southeast without a total or near-complete abortion ban, Mary began receiving calls from women in neighboring states who needed help with transportation, childcare, or sometimes just a hand to hold.

It’s easier to ask a stranger.

“There is obviously still a lot of stigma around abortion, so many women go for it alone when they do,” says Mary. “They do it without really asking or asking for much help, which is very sad.”

Last year, abortion benefit organizations helped women in need of medication or a procedure travel to Florida.

After May 1, they’ll help get the women of Florida out.

Four out of five organizations that provide financial assistance to people seeking abortions in Florida say they have seen a drastic increase in callers and costs since May 1. While the average gestational age of the fetus at the time of the abortion decreases, abortion costs increase. Florida’s near-total abortion ban is forcing more and more people to travel to Baltimore, Maryland; Washington DC and New York for healthcare.

“This new update from Florida just reinforces something that is already happening,” said Jade Hurley of the DC Abortion Fund. “People have already spent every dollar they spent getting their abortion, and every dollar they spent getting here, which means the cost of abortions has gone up.”

‘Held together by spit and tape’

As previously reported, the Heartbeat Protection Act went into effect on May 1, a month after the state’s 15-week ban went into effect in April. The 15-week ban, which passed in 2022, remained stuck at the Supreme Court until April, when the court overturned a 34-year-old decision that said a privacy provision in the state constitution protected a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy. break.

Once the fifteen-week ban went into effect, the six-week ban was put into effect, which was passed in 2023.

Mary said these changes have left people confused and scared.

“You probably haven’t been paying attention for two years because the world is completely crazy and crazy. So the fact that it went from 24, to 15, to six (weeks) so quickly is just very scary,” Mary said.

It is easier for people to fly directly to Washington, DC or Baltimore from Florida. Traveling is more expensive, but logistics are less complicated.

Although North Carolina is the closest state without a six-week or total abortion ban (the state allows abortion up to twelve weeks), the 72-hour personal waiting period makes it difficult for many to travel the somewhat drivable distance for an appointment.

The closest is Virginia, which bans third-trimester abortion. But it’s hard to find direct flights, the nearest abortion provider can be an hour from the airport, and those clinics are already full.

“It’s almost like a game in this little network (abortion funds) held together by spit and tape,” Hurley said. “We must continually work together to ensure access to abortion.”

The need for abortion ‘intensifies’ in Washington, DC

Four of the five organizations that provide abortion funds in Florida spent approximately $165,000 on procedures, travel and lodging expenses in the month of May.

The Women’s Emergency Network, Access Reproductive Care Southeast, the Emergency Medical Assistance Abortion Fund and the Florida Access Network all provided their May issues to the USA TODAY Florida Network. The Tampa Bay Abortion Fund did not respond.

Data from one such organization, the Women’s Emergency Network of Florida, shows a dramatic increase in both funding and the number of people needing abortions.

In May 2023, they helped 53 Floridians access abortion services, in and out of state, at a cost of $18,600.

By May 2024, that number had risen to 184, and the cost skyrocketed to $74,400. Travel costs have increased more than fifteen times.

Data from Access Reproductive Care Southeast shows that 89% of callers from Florida had to travel to get an abortion in May 2024, compared to 57% of callers last year.

Callers from Florida also traveled an average of 592 miles to access care in May, compared to an average travel distance of 359 miles in 2023.

In Washington, DC, “abortion is legal at all stages of pregnancy in DC and is performed when patients and physicians jointly determine it is medically appropriate,” according to the Office of the Attorney General for the District of Columbia.

Hurley, who works for an abortion fund in Washington, D.C., said on April 1, when the Florida Supreme Court announced that the Heartbeat Protection Act would go into effect on May 1, the need for abortions increased.

Nine people received money in April and 21 people received money in May, for a total of 30. Over the previous three months, from January to March, the fund helped a total of 22 Florida people.

Also during this period, the average gestational age of the fetus was 19 weeks. In May, the gestational age dropped to 17 weeks.

“We have no practical support infrastructure to support everyone who comes to the DC area. That was the case three months ago, that was the case six months ago, and it’s only going to get worse,” Hurley said.

The demand for access to abortion from Florida, including appointments and money for travel and procedures, is draining resources on a minute-by-minute basis, even though there are twelve abortion clinics in Washington DC

“We are just at the beginning of a change in the landscape that will likely result in DC, the DC region, and I want to extend this to even the DMV (Washington DC, Maryland and Virginia) being underwater state,” she said. .

“It’s diabolical,” says an abortion supporter

Jessica Hatem is the executive director of the Emergency Medical Assistance Abortion Fund, which serves people in Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast.

She said people are confused and don’t know how the six weeks are calculated even after the Heartbeat Protection Act goes into effect.

The law uses the term “gestational age,” which means the time measured from the first day of the mother’s last menstrual period.

As of May 1, 14 states have banned abortion entirely and seven states have bans on abortion based on gestational age, with Florida, Georgia and South Carolina banning abortion after six weeks.

“We’ve seen in this month that some people can actually tell that they’re less than six weeks pregnant, but that’s very little,” Hatem said. “Most people still have to leave the state for abortion care.”

Since May 1, the organization has shifted from supporting other Southerners coming to Florida for abortions to almost exclusively supporting Floridians leaving the state.

But she’s still keeping an eye on what’s happening in those other Southern states, like Texas and Louisiana. She believes Florida could be next.

From USA TODAY: The Supreme Court retains access to the widely used abortion drug mifepristone

A new law in Louisiana labels the two abortion drugs, mifepristone and misoprostol, as Schedule IV substances. That means they fall into the same category as anxiety medications like Xanax and Valium.

The law makes its possession without a prescription or outside the professional medical practice punishable by a prison sentence of one to five years and fines of up to $5,000.

And in Texas, the Supreme Court upheld the state’s total abortion ban in late May. The law has an exception for women dealing with “life-threatening conditions,” but doctors who violate the law can face stiff penalties, including first-degree misdemeanor charges punishable by up to life in prison and fines of more than $100,000.

“The anti-choice movement continues to move the goalposts. Looking at what happened in Texas is a good indicator for the rest of us of what is to come,” Hatem said. “We are losing more as time goes by. I absolutely don’t believe this is where we land. This is what’s happening now. And it’s devilish.

Ana Goñi-Lessanstate watchdog reporter for the USA TODAY Network – Florida, can be reached at [email protected].