Florida abortion providers brace for six-week ban: ‘Where are these 80,000 patients gonna go?’

Florida, the last bastion of abortion access in the south-eastern United States, will ban abortion past six weeks of pregnancy starting next month, leaving abortion providers and their supporters in the state and across the country scrambling to deal with the fallout for patients.

On Monday, the Florida state supreme court upheld a 15-week abortion ban, a move that removed the barriers for a separate, six-week ban that takes effect on 1 May. In a separate ruling, the court also agreed to let Florida residents weigh in on the issue through a November ballot measure to enshrine abortion rights in the state constitution – a decision that opens a new front in an election that is already sure to be dominated by abortion politics.

“We’re all holding out hope for November, but realizing that from May to November, we’re going to be turning patients away at unprecedented rates,” said Dr Chelsea Daniels, a family medicine physician and abortion provider in Miami, Florida. “It feels like a punch to the gut.”

Georgia is the closest state in the region to still permit the procedure, but it also bans abortion after six weeks, before many women know they are pregnant. After that ban took effect, the number of abortions performed in the state fell by almost half, according to one recent analysis. Once Florida’s six-week ban takes effect, it will be even stricter than Georgia’s. While both states require abortion patients to wait 24 hours between getting counseling about the procedure and actually receiving it, Florida requires that counseling to be in person – meaning people have to make two trips to the clinic rather than one.

Daniels estimates that, at the Planned Parenthood clinic where she works, three-quarters of her patients are past six weeks of pregnancy. Since the US supreme court overturned Roe v Wade in 2022, her clinic has also treated patients from states such as Texas, Alabama, Kentucky, Tennessee and Mississippi, which have all banned almost all abortions. There were more than 80,000 abortions performed in Florida in 2023.

“Where are these 80,000 patients gonna go?” said Daniels, who is also a fellow with Physicians for Reproductive Health. “With the number of states that have restrictions, there are just not enough states protective of abortion to accommodate this volume.”

Some abortion funds, too, are concerned that once Florida’s six-week ban takes effect, they will run out of money and be unable to fulfill the requests they expect to receive for support for travel. Many funds are already facing intense financial pressures, since so many people must now go out of state for abortions.

Stephanie Loraine Piñeiro, the executive director of the Florida Access Network abortion fund, said she estimates that costs per patient could increase from $1,500 to $3,000. Megan Jeyifo, executive director of the Chicago Abortion Fund, expects that costs for her fund will rise by more than $100,000 per month after the six-week ban takes effect. Her fund has helped roughly 2,000 people from Florida and its neighboring states come to Illinois for abortions.

“When we lose Florida, we just lose this huge lifeline for not just Floridians but for people in the South,” Jeyifo said. “We are on the brink of turning people away for the first time in five years. The rage donations have dried up. The interest in this issue, when there are so many other competing crises in our country and in the world, has waned.”

When the US supreme court overturned Roe, the Tampa Bay Abortion Fund saw “thousands and thousands of dollars pouring in”, said McKenna Kelley, a board member and volunteer for the abortion fund. But in the hours since the Florida supreme court’s decision, Kelley said that to her knowledge, the fund has only received roughly $1,000 – enough to likely pay for a single abortion patient.

“That’s really what this is going to come down to. We’re anticipating at least 90% of our callers are going to have to go out of state. And it’s a lot of money,” Kelley said.

For now, Daniels said that she is focused on caring for as many patients as possible. Although her clinic also provides services such as infertility and prenatal care, she expects the clinic to shift to prioritize as many abortion patients as possible before May. The clinic will also likely expand its hours.

“I feel like I’ve gone through all stages of grief in the last 16 hours. I’ve cried and I’ve yelled and I’ve had really difficult conversations, not just professionally with my employer, but also with my loved ones,” she said. But, she added: “Until they pull the instruments out of my hands, I’ll be providing abortion care till 15 weeks.”

The Guardian