Jun 9, 2024 - Politics & Policy

As Florida abortion ban disrupts care, activists push ballot initiative

Abortion rights advocates march and rally in support of the Yes On 4 campaign in downtown Orlando, F

Advocates rally in downtown Orlando to support enshrining abortion rights in the Florida Consitution. Photo: Willie J. Allen Jr./Orlando Sentinel/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

One month in, Florida's six-week abortion ban appears as disruptive to patients seeking care as providers and advocates predicted.

  • That means fewer abortions performed in-state, more Floridians seeking care elsewhere and a surge in patients at clinics in less-restrictive states along the East Coast.

Why it matters: The unfolding impact raises the stakes for organizers of a ballot initiative to restore broader abortion access by enshrining it in Florida's Constitution.

  • "It's all gas, no brakes from now until November," a spokesperson for the effort tells Axios.
  • It won't be easy: Amending Florida's Constitution requires 60% of voters to approve — though voters in the politically divided state have a history of embracing progressive ballot measures.
  • Polling has support for the abortion rights amendment hovering at the supermajority threshold.

State of play: It's too soon to grasp the full ramifications of the law, but some reproductive health clinics are performing fewer abortions and referring more patients to resources to help them coordinate care elsewhere, a Planned Parenthood provider tells Axios.

  • The East Coast has seen a surge in patients and longer wait times for abortion appointments, according to a Washington Post analysis citing a survey of clinics in Florida, Georgia, Virginia, Maryland, Washington D.C., and the Carolinas.

Yes, but: Per the Post, the impact hasn't been so dramatic that clinics are closing or running out of appointments altogether, as was seen after Texas enacted a six-week ban in 2021.

  • That's largely attributed to the availability of medication abortion, which is safe to use up to 10 weeks of pregnancy.
  • Several states have enacted "shield laws" to protect from prosecution providers that mail the pills to states such as Florida that require abortion seekers to see a physician in person.

Zoom in: A cloud of anxiety has settled in among patients and staff at clinics run by Planned Parenthood Southwest and Central Florida, chief medical officer Robyn Schickler tells Axios.

  • Patient navigators, who help patients who are more than six weeks pregnant coordinate care, helped 50 such persons at those clinics the first week of May — as many people as they saw in all of April.
  • Some patients who were aware of the new abortion restriction and saw a doctor as soon as possible still missed the six-week cutoff, Schickler said.
  • Other patients still hadn't heard about the ban and wept as Schickler walked them through their limited options.

Between the lines: That lack of awareness, advocates say, is one of the hurdles facing Floridians Protecting Freedom, the coalition working to pass the ballot initiative enshrining abortion access through fetal viability — or about 24 weeks of pregnancy — in the state constitution.

  • State health officials have done little to publicize the ban, beyond a misleading flyer responding to criticisms of it.
  • Amendment campaign organizers are investing in multilingual and multiplatform messaging to try to reach young voters as well as voters of color and those who don't speak English, spokesperson Natasha Sutherland said.

The bottom line: The task for those pushing the ballot initiative to protect abortion access "is two-fold," Sutherland says:

  • "First, educating voters on Florida's current limitations on abortion access. And second, mobilizing these voters to overcome the 60% threshold to restore access to care."
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