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It’s A ‘Terrifying Time’ To Be In Florida As Abortion Ban Takes Effect

Florida’s six-week abortion ban took effect Wednesday, essentially shutting down the last abortion safe haven in the entire Southeast region of the country.

Abortion providers, clinic staff, pro-choice advocates and lawmakers along the East Coast have been preparing for this day since the Florida Supreme Court greenlighted the six-week ban in April. Despite months of preparation, physicians and staff at Planned Parenthood health centers throughout Florida were gutted.

“It is truly a terrifying time to be a pregnant person in Florida — and that is the devastating reality,” Dr. Chelsea Daniels, a Florida abortion provider, said during a Wednesday morning press conference at Planned Parenthood’s Golden Glades-Miami health center.

Almost all of Daniels’ patients who came to the clinic Tuesday for abortion consultations were over six weeks pregnant and will need to travel out of state if they have the resources. Daniels said she had to turn away patients Wednesday morning while she was in the clinic, just before the press conference started. Many of the patients were just days over the new abortion ban’s pregnancy limit.

“I’ve spent my life and my career doing this, and I have the training to do this, and I have people who do not have the training, expertise or knowledge to do this telling me that I can’t,” she said. “More importantly, telling women that their reproductive freedoms and their bodily autonomy don’t matter, and what matters is their political aims by bad actors.”

Advocates likened the restriction to a near-total ban because most people do not know they’re pregnant at six weeks. Though Florida had a 15-week abortion ban prior to Wednesday, it was still a lifeline for people seeking abortion care in the Southeast. Georgia and South Carolina have six-week abortion bans, while Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee and several other states to the west have near-total bans. North Carolina has a 12-week abortion ban in effect, and providers are already at capacity, Gov. Roy Cooper (D-N.C.) said last month.

The Florida ban also prohibits sending abortion pills through the mail, which means pregnant people will need two in-person appointments, 24 hours apart, to receive care before six weeks. But some online pharmacies that send abortion pills by mail said they will continue to ship to Florida for women seeking care after six weeks.

Many providers in other parts of the U.S. are protected by state shield laws that allow them to ship to Florida. Additionally, pregnant people can access medication abortion through community groups or online through international services like Aid Access.

Florida’s Planned Parenthood affiliates have been working with abortion funds and clinics in North Carolina, Illinois and Virginia to make the process for patients traveling out of state go as smoothly as possible. Most patients who can travel will likely go to Virginia or Illinois, since North Carolina has a 72-hour waiting period between appointments — one of the longest waiting periods in the country.

“There are 84,000 patients who sought abortion care last year. There is no way that the national fabric of abortion care can take care of these women.”

– Alexandra Mandado, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of South, East and North Florida

Despite the tireless work of reproductive rights groups from the East Coast, there will be pregnant people seeking abortions in the Southeast region of the U.S. who will not be able to get care, said Alexandra Mandado, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of South, East and North Florida.

“There were 84,000 patients who sought abortion care last year. There is no way that the national fabric of abortion care can take care of these women,” she said. “When we talk about 21 states that have bans or restrictions, where are these women going to go?”

Planned Parenthood clinics in Virginia have increased resources in the last few months in anticipation of Florida’s abortion ban, said Paulette McElwain, president and CEO of the Virginia League for Planned Parenthood. Clinics have added hours to their schedules, increased staff on their call lines and ramped up telehealth services for gender-affirming care and medication abortion. The VLPP also recruited more providers and nurses in four of its abortion clinics to increase the clinics’ capacity. Some clinics are also training nurse practitioners in abortion care since Virginia law allows it.

Currently, Planned Parenthood’s Virginia clinics can offer same-day access to abortion care, McElwain told reporters during a Wednesday call, although she anticipates it will be harder to get an appointment the longer the Florida ban is in effect.

In 2022, around 3% of the VLPP’s abortion patients were from out of state. With more states in the region enacting abortion bans, over 20% of their patients were traveling from out of state each month as of April. Yesterday, more than 30% of patients making abortion appointments at Virginia’s Planned Parenthood clinics were from out of state.

“No one provider or even one state can meet the need created by Florida’s extreme ban,” McElwain said.

Abortion funds in the region, many of which were already hanging by a thread, are worried they will not be able to meet the demand for care now that Florida has effectively gone dark.

“Florida’s limited abortion access has functioned as a band-aid for the South. That band-aid is now being ripped off,” Jade Hurley, communications manager at the DC Abortion Fund, said in a statement.

This year alone, DCAF has served 34 Floridians, and 13 of those reached out after the state Supreme Court greenlighted the six-week ban.

“We still don’t have the dollars, appointments or capacity to serve everyone who will need us this summer,” Hurley said.

Florida’s six-week abortion ban does have exceptions for rape, incest and victims of human trafficking, as well as for fatal fetal diagnoses and the life and health of the pregnant person. But several advocates noted that these would likely be useless in practice.

“They are in the law in name only to pull the wool over voters’ eyes, making this ban seem less extreme than it really is,” Dawnyelle Singleton, manager of volunteers and community programs at Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida, said during a Wednesday press conference at Planned Parenthood’s abortion clinic in Sarasota, Florida.

Pro-choice groups in the state hope the ban won’t be in effect forever. Amendment 4, an abortion rights amendment, will be on the ballot in November to hopefully enshrine access to care until fetal viability, or around 24 weeks. Many advocates said they will be focusing their efforts on getting Floridians to vote yes on the amendment, also titled “Amendment to Limit Government Interference with Abortion,” ahead of the general election.

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