Florida’s six-week abortion ban goes into effect. Here’s what to know

May 1, 2024

Florida’s six-week abortion ban officially went into effect on Wednesday, one month after the state Supreme Court ruled in favor of the measure, turning the Southeastern region essentially into a desert of abortion access.

Prior to the ban going into effect, abortions had been permitted up to 15 weeks into a pregnancy in Florida. Even with the limit, the state had become an island surrounded by states with much harsher, near-total abortion bans.

The Florida Supreme Court ruled at the start of April to uphold the state’s existing 15-week ban, allowing the six-week trigger ban to go into effect soon after. The ban includes exceptions for rape, incest, medical emergencies and some “fetal anomalies,” though patients must provide documentation such as a police report, medical record or court order to claim the exception.

The effects of this ban are expected to be felt across the region as patients seeking to terminate their pregnancies in the South now have even fewer options than they previously had.

Here are some things to know:

Access far from reach

For Florida women seeking an abortion past six weeks, the closest state where they could access services will now be North Carolina, where abortions are permitted up to 12 weeks into a pregnancy.

Getting to North Carolina by car could take up to 12 hours for someone living in Florida’s southernmost area, presenting a financial barrier for many low-income women. And those who do reach North Carolina will need to wait some more before they can get abortion services.

“North Carolina has one of the longest delay periods … in the entire country. It’s 72 hours and they also have a two person visit requirement,” said Amber Gavin, vice president of advocacy and operations for the abortion clinic A Woman’s Choice, which has locations in North Carolina, Florida and Virginia.

“But gestationally, we are able to go to 12 weeks which is obviously double the time that we will be in Florida. However, we’re also sending patients to our Danville, Virginia clinic and other clinics in Virginia because there is no waiting period.”

In Virginia, abortions are permitted up to 26 weeks and 6 days into a pregnancy.

Abortion pills through the mail banned

The Florida bill enacting the six-week abortion also explicitly banned obtaining medical abortions — which account for most abortions — through telehealth or the postal service.

The medications necessary for performing a medical abortion — mifepristone and misoprostol — can still be taken in Florida but the ban stipulates that they can only be “dispensed by a physician and may not be dispensed via the U.S. Postal Service or by any other courier or shipping service.”

National access to the abortion pill is currently being fought in courts. The Supreme Court heard arguments over expanded access to mifepristone in April.

The Food and Drug Administration in 2016 increased the gestational age at which the abortion pill could be taken to up to 10 weeks and allowed for the medication to be sent through the mail.

The Christian legal group Alliance Defending Freedom has requested that the Supreme Court uphold a lower court’s ruling to roll back these expansions. A decision is expected later in the summer.

Advocates preparing

As of Tuesday, Gavin from A Woman’s Choice said her clinic’s location in Florida has started informing some patients that they will no longer be able to receive care.

Gavin said her organization is connecting patients with navigators and staff who can “help you get care in one of our North Carolina or Virginia clinics just based on gestation.”

“Our patient navigators, I think, are miracle workers. They really are creative and kind of work closely with abortion funds, and practical support folks to help patients get to the care out-of-state,” said Gavin.

“But I think there are going to be so many instances where people aren’t going to be able to leave and and aren’t going to be able to get the care.”

Stella, a reproductive justice organizer for Advocates for Youth in Florida, said her group has been focusing on providing information to patients on what their options are after the six-week ban goes into effect. She requested that her last name not be published due to what she described as prior doxxing incidents.

“We’ve been talking to our patients all month, a lot of them who really don’t know the fate of the law or when things go into effect. Because, you know, just for the normal citizen, it’s very confusing if you’re not keeping up with this stuff every single day because it changes so much,” said Stella

Abortion on the ballot

When the Florida Supreme Court ruled to uphold the state’s abortion ban, it also approved the placement of a measure on the ballot that would provide a constitutional right to an abortion in the state.

Florida’s Amendment 4 ballot measure states “no law shall prohibit, penalize, delay, or restrict abortion before viability or when necessary to protect the patient’s health, as determined by the patient’s healthcare provider.”

Stella views the ballot measure as the “last chance to codify and solidify abortion care in Florida,” and she feels good about the chances of it passing.

“We do feel very confident about it,” she said. “And the number of young voters that are going to register this year that couldn’t vote in the last election is going to be a huge accomplishment. Because we know especially among young voters that they do want abortion rights to be codified in their states.”

A poll in April found that the majority of Florida voters — 57 percent — said that they think the six-week ban is too strict. Less than half of those surveyed, however, said they would vote in favor of the ballot initiative.

Democrats taking advantage

The six-week ban going into effect opens up an opportunity for Democrats to make some headway in the former swing state, which has now turned red.

Abortion has been a solidly winning issue for Democrats at the ballot. The party was able to flip the Florida state legislature last month in part thanks to Democratic Rep. Tom Keen running on a platform that included protecting abortion access during a special election.

In neighboring Alabama, Democratic Rep. Marilyn Lands similarly beat Republican Teddy Powell in a special election in March while leaning into the issues of abortion access and in vitro fertilization. Democratic strategists credited Lands’s unabashed support for abortion access as a key part of her victory.

The Biden administration seems poised to build on top of these wins. Vice President Harris will travel to Jacksonville, Fla. on Wednesday to go after former President Trump and his recent comments on reproductive rights.

According to prepared remarks, Harris will say, “This ban applies to many women before they even know they are pregnant – which tells us the extremists who wrote this ban don’t even know how a woman’s body works. Or they just don’t care.”

Harris’s visit comes just one week after President Biden traveled to the state and condemned the six-week ban, laying the blame on Trump for its implementation.