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How Florida's six-week abortion ban will impact people in and around the state

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Now to Florida, where a ban on abortions after six weeks has taken effect. That means that, starting today, people can no longer access legal abortions in the state after six weeks of pregnancy - with rare exceptions. Abortion rights proponents say the restriction will dramatically curb access to the procedure for thousands of people - and not just in Florida, but all across the South. Caitlin Myers is a professor of economics at Middlebury College, where she has been tracking travel distances to abortion facilities for the last 15 years. She joins us now. Welcome.

CAITLIN MYERS: Thank you.

CHANG: OK, so this ban in Florida - it takes effect today, as we said. Can you just first explain to people - what does a six-week ban mean, practically speaking, for a person who discovers they're pregnant in Florida and doesn't want to be pregnant? Like, they have to figure things out pretty fast, right?

MYERS: Very fast. So the soonest most people realize that they're pregnant is at about four weeks' gestational age, and that's because we date pregnancies from the date of the last menstrual period.

CHANG: Right.

MYERS: What that means in practice is that for people who realize at roughly the time they miss a regular period that they might be pregnant, that they have about two weeks to decide what they want to do, to gather the resources, to make an appointment and to obtain the abortion.

CHANG: Which is a super tight timeline.

MYERS: It's very tight. Some people will manage it. A lot won't.

CHANG: Well, let's talk about logistics because you track data on how far people will have to travel to get an abortion sometimes. Like, let's take the example of someone in Miami-Dade County, in Florida, who wants to get an abortion after the six-week mark. What options do they have?

MYERS: Well, they really have three. So if they're past six weeks and unable to obtain an abortion from a facility in Florida, they are facing a drive of about 11 hours to the nearest facility that could provide them with an abortion...

CHANG: Wow.

MYERS: ...Which is in Charlotte, N.C. And even if they're able to figure out how to get to Charlotte, N.C., North Carolina actually has a mandatory three-day waiting period that would require this person to have an in-person appointment, wait three days, then obtain the abortion, on top of an 11-hour drive each way. So a lot of people are going to go past North Carolina, several more hours, into Virginia.

CHANG: There are financial consequences to all of this, right?

MYERS: Oh, absolutely. When you think about people who are seeking abortions, the majority of people seeking abortions are low-income - about 75%. We also know from economic research that this is a population that is very credit-constrained. More than 80% have subprime credit scores, which means it could be really difficult to come up with the resources to make that kind of trip.

CHANG: Exactly.

MYERS: So some people are going to be looking to scrape together the resources, obtain the support, obtain child care, get time off of work and drive 11 to 13 hours or more to North Carolina or Virginia. Others are going to turn to telemedicine medication abortion. Particularly since shield laws have come online in several states, it's increasingly common for people in ban states seeking abortions to order the medications online and have them shipped to them in the mail.

CHANG: Florida is not the first state to enact a ban like this since the Dobbs decision. Can you talk about why, though, this ban in Florida is especially significant in your mind?

MYERS: Yeah, Florida is a really big deal for a couple of reasons. The first is that it's just a really big state with a lot of people. So last year, about 86,000 people obtained abortions in Florida. The second reason it's a big deal is its unique geography means that people who previously would have obtained an abortion in Florida are facing really long driving distances to reach facilities that can provide abortions past six weeks because the nearest facilities are in Virginia and North Carolina.

CHANG: Right.

MYERS: The third reason Florida is a really big deal is that, up until today, Florida had been a really important destination for people who were traveling out of other states enforcing abortion bans. In particular, people who were leaving Mississippi and Alabama in search of abortions and people who were traveling south from Georgia, which has a six-week abortion ban, had been traveling to Florida. And so in the last year, we've seen a really big increase in out-of-state travelers who are coming to Florida for abortions. And now Florida is not a viable option for them either, and they also face much larger - much longer travel distances.

CHANG: Yeah. So what will you be watching for specifically in the weeks - and months - to come?

MYERS: So I have a research team here at Middlebury College that surveys appointment availability at U.S. abortion facilities. What we saw last month when we last surveyed in mid-April is that there were already some signs of capacity constraints, particularly in North Carolina. There were quite a few facilities that didn't have appointments available in the next few weeks, even before Florida had begun enforcing this ban. We'll be surveying again this month to see what's happening to appointment availability in these key destination states to see if travel out of Florida is taxing the system, and so we'll just have to - we'll have to find out when we survey.

CHANG: That is Caitlin Myers, professor of economics at Middlebury College. Thank you so much for joining us today.

MYERS: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Sarah Handel
[Copyright 2024 NPR]
Ailsa Chang is an award-winning journalist who hosts All Things Considered along with Ari Shapiro, Audie Cornish, and Mary Louise Kelly. She landed in public radio after practicing law for a few years.