Apr 22, 2024

Florida's near-total abortion ban could push N.C. clinics to the brink

How late into pregnancy abortion is legal
Data: KFF, Guttmacher Institute, Axios research; Map: Simran Parwani/Axios Visuals

As abortion access dwindles across the U.S., North Carolina clinics are running short on space, staff and time to care for the influx of patients.

Why it matters: North Carolina has been a refuge for people seeking abortion care in the South. Resources may be too strained — and new restrictions too tight — to consider that the case anymore.

The big picture: Florida, where there were more than 80,000 abortions in 2023, will have a six-week abortion ban effective May 1.

  • After that, North Carolina will be the closest place Floridians can get an abortion after six weeks' gestation . North Carolina allows access up to 12 weeks of pregnancy.
  • Florida accounts for about one in 12 abortions in the country.

By the numbers: North Carolina is already taking many patients from out of state, especially from South Carolina and Tennessee. Clinics also see many from Georgia and Alabama, and some from Mississippi and Louisiana.

  • About a third of Planned Parenthood South Atlantic abortions are provided to out-of-state patients.
  • Typically patients are referred to Virginia, D.C. and Maryland when they can't have their procedure in North Carolina, providers tell Axios.
  • They've sent patients to and accepted patients from Florida, where the ban has been 20 weeks, depending on wait times and clinic capacity.

What they're saying: To prepare for a potential surge of new patients from Florida, providers are working to free up capacity. They're repeating what was done in July 2023 when North Carolina implemented a new requirement of having an additional in-person appointment to see a doctor before an abortion procedure.

  • Planned Parenthood South Atlantic tried to "optimize patient flow," hire new staff and more than double its available appointments after Senate Bill 20. Wait times are around two weeks.
  • "Despite that commitment, we have to hold the doors open for as many people as possible, that is not going to be enough to stem the tide of growing demand from across the region," says Alison Kiser, Planned Parenthood South Atlantic senior director of external affairs.

A Woman's Choice opened a new clinic within the last few months in Danville, Virginia — about 50 minutes from its Greensboro clinic — where it could send patients past the 12-week mark.

  • "Even though they're already traveling hundreds, sometimes thousands of miles round trip, to access their care, having an additional 50 minutes in the grand scheme of things isn't as bad," says Amber Gavin, vice president of advocacy and operations.

A Preferred Women's Health Center, a small clinic in Charlotte, will refer patients to the National Abortion Federation for help finding care outside the state. Executive director Calla Hales says the clinic is already pushed to capacity.

  • "The patients we've seen in the past two years have shown us a level of despair and desperation that I've never seen before," Hales says. "And you truly want to help as much as you can and do the best you can, but we're in this position that we can only do so much."

Between the lines: Abortion providers say the new 72-hour-wait requirement has been one of the most understated, consequential and frustrating changes in North Carolina law. These visits take up half of the clinics' appointments, Kiser says.

  • As of July, patients must come to a clinic in person, listen to a script, sign papers and then wait three days before a procedure.
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