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Florida’s abortion rate increases despite 15-week ban

FILE - Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis holds up a 15-week abortion ban law after signing it on April 14, 2022, in Kissimmee, Fla.   (AP Photo/John Raoux, File)
John Raou
Gov. Ron DeSantis holds up a 15-week abortion ban law after signing it on April 14, 2022, in Kissimmee.

A 15-week ban on abortion in Florida hasn't decreased the number of procedures done here as women from surrounding states with more restrictive bans head to the Sunshine State for their procedures.

Florida's ban on most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy hasn't decreased the number of procedures as people from surrounding states with more stronger restrictions head here for their procedures.

“We are seeing a lot of in-state and out-of-state individuals who are having to travel farther to receive care,” said Miranda Colavito, with Planned Parenthood communications. Colavito has been doing advocacy work for women’s rights for five years.

Colavito said that Florida is a big access point not only for neighboring states, but also for countries in Latin America and the Caribbean.

The current situation has caused some confusion about Florida's legislation.

“So many people think that the six-week ban has already passed, and we’re making sure they know that they can still get an abortion up to 15 weeks,” she said.

When the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June 2022, decisions over abortion rights shifted to the states from the federal government. States were then allowed to pass their own abortion laws. Several already had.

Florida’s 15-week legislation took effect in July 2022, but the law's standing is under question due to legal challenges.

In April, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a six-week ban passed by the Legislature, but it will not take effect until the legality of the 15-week ban is determined by the Florida Supreme Court. The new law includes exemptions for rape and incest up to 15 weeks.

Thirteen states enacted trigger laws that would further restrict or ban abortion. Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama have a complete ban with limited exceptions, such as rape, incest and mother or baby fatality. Georgia has a six-week ban.

As Florida's 15-week ban became law, abortion clinics in the state became busier.

Shortly before the 15-week ban was signed, a judge overturned an injunction from a 2015 law mandating that physicians must provide information to the patient such as medical risks, a description of the fetus and alternatives to ending the pregnancy before receiving consent to perform the abortion.

The 2015 law (HB 633) also said physicians must to provide the information in person at least 24 hours before the procedure.

“The 24-hour delay and consent rules are really increasing the difficulty in getting appointments for individuals,” Colavito said. “It’s doubling [increasing] the expense for patients. It doubles the time [they need to take off work] if they have to miss work and find child care, or if they need a ride to see us for all these different pieces.”

The 24-hour delay also poses travel and lodging problems for clients coming to Florida because of the additional time needed.

However, Patient Navigation, a Planned Parenthood program, allows affiliates to collaborate and find patients care regardless of location.

“Planned Parenthood instituted Patient Navigation just last year after Roe v. Wade was overturned. They coordinate across the entire country to see if we have funding available for patients in need of their expenses to be covered,” Colavito said.

Expenses eligible for coverage include lodgings, food, travel fees and sometimes even the procedure.

“I feel that we will do everything we can for everyone who lives in and out of our service area,” she said. “If you can’t come into a clinic, we’ll make a telehealth appointment.”

Aside from Planned Parenthood, Florida Access Network (FAN), an organization that focuses on providing tangible resources to clients seeking an abortion, also helps women coming in and going out of Florida.

An official at FAN said it had an influx of women from Texas, Louisiana, Alabama and Georgia in July 2022 and were able to pay for them to get abortions, assist with gas or flight costs, lodging and food. At one point, they were also doing child care.

But because FAN is an individual organization without consistent funding, it had to shift its focus from out-of-state clients to Floridians within five months of the new legislation.

The official said they made a decision because they did not have the capacity, financially or even internally with staff, to help Floridians and out-of-state clients with all of the requests coming in.

FAN partners with other clinics and private entities throughout the United States to help clients outside of Florida receive funds for abortions.

As clinics and activists take strides toward helping women obtain an abortion despite state restrictions, women’s care centers and organizations are first working to reach women traveling in and out of Florida.

They are focusing on outreach, governmental push and making all information available before patients seek an abortion.

Rebecca Klein, a 14-year-long executive director of A Woman’s Choice, a pregnancy health clinic in Lakeland, said the center’s mission is to reach women and men facing unplanned pregnancies who specifically believe that abortion is their only option.

A Woman’s Choice provides pregnancy testing, ultrasounds, testing for sexually transmitted infections, and support programs that provide education and mentorship, infant and maternity supplies and fatherhood training.

Klein’s bottom line is informing women before they make a life-altering decision. She touched on the importance of HB 633 in ensuring that women are properly informed.

“I understand that many of the women we serve have travel issues, but that’s not enough of a reason to expedite a process that is permanent and impacts the rest of their lives, whether they choose an abortion or not,” she said.

Klein gave an analogy to show the importance of women slowing down and seeking other options before making a critical decision.

“There’s no other decision that we make where there’s such a push for it to happen so quickly as there is with abortion,” she said. “Even with buying a car, people want all of the options and information. Same goes with touring college campuses to choose the perfect fit. These life decisions warrant time and information, and that’s what we want to make sure that they have instead of making decisions out of crisis mode.”

Anecdotally, these women’s clinics have experienced higher numbers of visits recently. Though Lakeland hasn’t experienced an influx, Klein said, she’s aware of it happening in bigger cities.

“I went to a conference in Jacksonville near the Georgia border, and the executive director of the Jacksonville center shared that her numbers have increased tremendously as she’s seen women coming directly over the border,” she said.

Klein said she wants to be sure women who are seeking abortions in Florida are aware of centers like hers.

“Marketing is major for our centers. It ensures that when women from outside of Florida are looking for options in Florida on the internet, they find us first,” she said.

A Woman’s Choice also launched a mobile medical unit this year in Lakeland. The units go to women who have travel restrictions.

“It provides the core services that are provided here at our center,” she said.

 Results were calculated by taking the state-level birth data of 2019-2022 and the first six months of 2023 and comparing the differences between ban states and protected states. Birth rates increased by 2.3% in ban states compared to protected states, meaning that there were approximately 32,000 more annual births, and ⅕ to ¼ of women who would’ve gotten an abortion did not.
Source: The Effects of the Dobbs Decision on Fertility, I Z A Institute of Labor Economics, November 2023. Chart: Cristina Pop.
Special to WGCU
Results were calculated by taking the state-level birth data of 2019-2022 and the first six months of 2023 and comparing the differences between ban states and protected states. Birth rates increased by 2.3% in ban states compared to protected states, meaning that there were approximately 32,000 more annual births, and ⅕ to ¼ of women who would’ve gotten an abortion did not.

Florida's 15-week ban was a win for anti-abortion organizations, and activists say they are pushing for more life-protecting laws.

Andy Secola, the Florida regional coordinator of Students for Life America, believes that the biggest motivator of change will happen through education and governmental pressure.

The national nonprofit organization meets with schools and educates students on being activists.

“We educate people about how extreme the abortion industry is. As soon as pro-abortion politicians get into office, they push for full access abortions to be made faster, easier, accessible and more profitable,” he said.

After Roe was overturned, Students for Life America grew in number of activists. Secola said this is due to people realizing that something can be done about abortion.

“We had so much interest from students wanting to build clubs that we had to hire an additional department of field team members,” Secola said. “We really exploded in growth.”

He said their next step is pushing for “heartbeat or better,” or the six-week ban, which is known as the Heartbeat Protection Act.

“I believe that the influx of women coming into Florida is proof that the 15-week bans don’t help. I don’t believe in the hard-core abolitionist mentality of ‘all or nothing’ because we are pro-incremental legislation. But now we see that six-week bans work and 15-week bans don’t,” he said.

The six-week law will go into effect after 30 days if the 15-week ban is deemed constitutional the Florida Supreme Court

Cristina Pop is a journalism student at Florida Gulf Coast University. This article was written for her Writing for a Mass Audience class with Professor Lyn Millner.

Copyright 2023 WGCU. To see more, visit WGCU.

Cristina Pop