Florida’s latest anti-abortion law will nearly eliminate access across the South

Most abortions are banned across the deep South. New restrictions in Florida threaten access for millions of Americans in a state that has been a refuge for care

Alex Woodward
New York
Friday 14 April 2023 14:33 BST
DeSantis State of the State: 'We are proud to be pro-life in the state of Florida'

Legislation approved by Republican state lawmakers in Florida outlaws abortion after six weeks of pregnancy, a measure that will effectively eliminate access for most abortion care across the US South.

Abortion is effectively outlawed in more than a dozen states, mostly in the South, following the US Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the constitutional right to abortion care last June.

Florida already banned most abortions at 15 weeks of pregnancy, but the latest measure joins anti-abortion restrictions in neighbouring states and across the deep South, including near-total bans in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, as well as a six-week ban in Georgia. The number of out-of-state abortion patients in Florida rose 38 per cent in 2022 compared to 2021, according to the state’s Agency for Health Care Administration.

Governor Ron DeSantis signed the latest bill into law shortly after the state’s Republican-controlled legislature passed the measure on 13 April.

Mr DeSantis, who signed the state’s 15-week ban into law last year, previously pledged to sign any “great life legislation” in the current legislative session .

“Across the country, pregnant people are being pushed to the brink of death because they can’t get an abortion,” said Elisabeth Smith, director of state policy and advocacy at the Center for Reproductive Rights.

“Yet Florida lawmakers have rushed this dangerous ban through the legislature with no concern for their citizens and how it will harm them,” she said in a statement shared with The Independent on 13 April.

The proposal will strand Florida residents “in a vast abortion desert” and force patients to travel more than 1,000 miles for legal access to abortion care, she said.

“No one should have to face that, and many people will not be able to make that journey,” she said.

Florida lawmakers spoke out against a near-total abortion ban on 29 March. The legislation passed on 13 April, and Ron DeSantis is expected to sign the bill into law
Florida lawmakers spoke out against a near-total abortion ban on 29 March. The legislation passed on 13 April, and Ron DeSantis is expected to sign the bill into law (AP)

Restricting access in Florida would “prevent not just the nearly four million Florida women of reproductive age from accessing abortion care after six weeks, but would also impact the nearly 15 million women of reproductive age who live in states across the South with abortion bans and would no longer be able to rely on Florida as an option to access care,” according to White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre.

“Politicians like Governor DeSantis espouse ‘freedom for all,’ while directly attacking the freedom to make one’s own health care decisions,” Ms Jean-Pierre said in a statement on 7 March.

Many pregnant patients are not aware they are pregnant at six weeks, and “as a result, this bill means many pregnant people will never have the option to have an abortion,” according to Laura Goodhue, executive director of the Florida Alliance of Planned Parenthood Affiliates.

But with the state’s additional 24-hour mandatory delay for abortion care and requirements that patients attend two appointments, “even patients who realize they are pregnant before six weeks may be unable to access abortion care before they run out of time,” Ms Goodhue said.

The latest proposal “has nothing to do with what is best for Floridians and everything to do with Ron DeSantis’ ambition to be president and what he thinks Republican primary voters want,” she added.

Compounding restrictions for abortion acre is an ongoing federal litigation over the future of mifepristone, a widely used abortion drug that is used in more than half of all abortions. A federal judge appointed by Donald Trump sought to revoked the US Food and Drug Administration’s long-standing approval of the drug, and the US Department of Justice is appealing the case to the US Supreme Court.

Democratic state Rep Anna Eskamani, a former Planned Parenthood patient and employee who now represents a district that includes Orlando, said the bill demonstrates “a complete disregard for the women of our state and for our collective freedoms.”

“As we’ve already seen in other states, a six-week ban is extreme, dangerous, and will force millions of people out of state to seek care and others will be forced into pregnancy,” she said in a statement on 7 March. “Most people do not even know they are pregnant until after six weeks, so this six-week ban might as well be a complete ban.”

The latest Florida proposal – introduced on the first day of the legislative session – includes exceptions for pregnancies from rape or incest up to 15 weeks of pregnancy, but a patient must have a copy of a restraining order, police report, medical record or other court order or document as proof.

Legislation would also prevent state funds from supporting a patient who leaves the state to seek an abortion.

Sweeping anti-abortion restrictions across the deep South and neighbouring states – including total bans in Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, Tennessee, Kentucky and West Virginia – means that access in the South is limited to Florida, North Carolina and South Carolina, where the state’s Supreme Court struck down a similar six-week ban earlier this year. Abortion providers in that state also do not perform abortions past 14 weeks of pregnancy.

Democratic state Rep Fentrice Driskell, Florida’s House minority leader in the GOP-controlled legislature, condemned the DeSantis administration’s anti-abortion agenda in response to his state of the state address on 7 March.

“Women in Ron DeSantis’ Florida are now less safe and will be forced to live under what effectively will be an outright abortion ban,” she said in a statement on 13 April. “As we said over and over, six weeks is before most women even know they’re pregnant, and it’s long before many tests for the viability, safety, and health of both the mother and fetus.”

Decisions about abortion care “should be between a woman and her doctor, family, and faith,” she added.

“She does not need Tallahassee politicians invading her right to privacy and taking that right away.”

This story was first published on 7 March 2023 and has been updated with developments

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