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Florida's six-week abortion ban will have far-reaching effects, advocates say

A large crowd of protesters held an abortion rights rally in Lykes Gaslight Park before marching to Water Street, where the Moms for Liberty convention was taking place in a Marriott hotel.
Stephanie Colombini
WUSF Public Media
A large crowd of protesters held an abortion rights rally in Lykes Gaslight Park before marching to Water Street, where the Moms for Liberty convention was taking place in a Marriott hotel.

A state Supreme Court ruling upholding Florida's 15-week ban means a six-week ban can go into effect in 30 days. Advocates who help people access abortions say this will make it harder for patients around the Southeast to get care.

Abortion rights in Florida will change dramatically in 30 days.

The state Supreme Court has decided to uphold a 15-week abortion ban that has been in effect since 2022, which is triggering a six-week ban that lawmakers passed last year.

Advocates for reproductive rights say this will harm patients.

“It's going to be very difficult for someone to find out they're pregnant, make the decision to have an abortion and then get that abortion before they are six weeks pregnant,” said McKenna Kelley, a volunteer board member with the Tampa Bay Abortion Fund.

The group helps people pay for abortions and get transportation to appointments. It anticipates a huge increase in demand for assistance once the six-week ban goes into effect.

“Someone who may be able to fund or partially fund their abortion locally, they may not be able to pay for a plane ticket or a hotel stay if they suddenly have to go to Washington D.C. or Illinois to access abortion,” said Kelley, who estimates about 90% of callers will have to go out-of-state for care.

Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida was the lead plaintiff in the case. It argued that the 15-week ban should be overturned because past court rulings had affirmed a privacy clause in Florida’s constitution applied to abortion.

Justices on the conservative court wrote in a majority opinion released on Monday that, “Consistent with longstanding principles of judicial deference to legislative enactments, we conclude there is no basis under the Privacy Clause to invalidate the statute.”

The court’s decision is expected to have national impact.

Florida's 15-week ban is still less restrictive than bans in most other southern states. Thousands of residents from places like Georgia, Alabama and Louisiana have traveled to Florida in recent years to access abortions.

“With the six-week ban, effectively, abortion is going to be cut off for the entire Southeast,” said Kelley.

That will strain clinics in states where abortion remains more widely accessible, she added.

Florida’s six-week ban includes exceptions in cases of rape or incest, or if the pregnant person’s life is in danger.

Voters will have a chance to undo the law this November. In a separate ruling on Monday, the court allowed a proposed constitutional amendment that protects abortion access to remain on Florida’s ballot.

That decision drew harsh criticism from opponents to abortion rights, some of whom also accused the court of taking too long to rule on the 15-week ban case.

“Nonetheless, by overturning prior case law that had improperly held that the privacy clause of the Florida Constitution encompassed a so-called ‘right’ to obtain an abortion within the state of Florida, today’s favorable decision on the 15-Week Abortion Ban means that 2023’s Heartbeat Protection Act is now slated to go into full effect, including the prohibition on the vast majority of Florida abortions after six-weeks’ gestation — and that is a silver lining in an otherwise dark day for Florida’s unborn children,” Andrew Shirvell, executive director of Florida Voice for the Unborn, said in a statement.

Supporters of abortion rights say the impending six-week ban makes passing the ballot initiative, which would allow patients to access the procedure until 24 weeks of pregnancy, “more important than ever.”

“At Planned Parenthood, the doctors and nurses have seen firsthand the devastating impact abortion restrictions have had on patients in Florida and across the country,” Laura Goodhue, executive director of the Florida Alliance of Planned Parenthood Affiliates, said in a statement.

“Lawmakers should focus on helping ensure greater access to care and healthier outcomes for patients, rather than interfering in Floridians’ personal medical decisions and attacking health care professionals…We now look forward to voters enshrining Amendment 4 in our state constitution this November, and returning these decisions back where they belong: in the hands of patients and those they trust, rather than meddling politicians.”

Copyright 2024 WUSF 89.7

Stephanie Colombini joined WUSF Public Media in December 2016 as Producer of Florida Matters, WUSF’s public affairs show. She’s also a reporter for WUSF’s Health News Florida project.