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Pregnant Floridians referred to North Carolina as state's 6-week abortion ban begins

'They are going to be beyond six weeks by the time we can get them in,' Laura Goodhue says
Posted at 7:10 PM, Apr 30, 2024

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The state's six-week abortion ban starts at midnight Wednesday, but Floridians are already being denied care. Health providers say they're forced to refer some patients out of state due to other Florida laws on the books.

The new six-week ban was approved by the state's GOP-controlled legislature last year, and on hold until a favorable Florida Supreme Court ruling earlier this month. Justices, in a split decision, found the state constitution's privacy protections didn't cover abortion access.

Six-week abortion ban could affect vote in November

Florida law is now set to change from restricting abortions past 15 to just six weeks. That's before many know they're pregnant. It's also around the time cardiac activity is detected, which some consider a heartbeat.

The new rules have exceptions for rape, incest, human trafficking and health up to 15 weeks. Only abortions related to fatal conditions are allowed beyond that.

Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the controversial policy into law during a private gathering in his office around 10:45 p.m., April 13, 2023. More than a year later, patients at Florida's abortion clinics are feeling its effects, unable to get access due to the state's required 24-hour waiting period.

"I actually just came into the health center and still wasn't ready for the shock of patients that are walking in today and finding out that they can't get an abortion," Laura Goodhue, the executive director of Florida Alliance of Planned Parenthood Affiliates, said. "They are going to be beyond six weeks by the time we can get them in."

Goodhue said her team has started referring patients to the closest care possible, North Carolina, which has a 12-week ban and 72-hour waiting period.

"We're going to do the best that we can," Goodhue said. "But the reality is that people may not know, and they will be either forced to give birth, or travel out of state and see a provider that they don't know."

As providers worked on referrals, Florida Democrats were outside the offices of high-profile Republicans on Tuesday, trying to hang the ban on the GOP. A small group of protesters gathered outside U.S. Sen. Rick Scott's Tallahassee workspace, condemning him for saying he'd have signed the six-week ban — but also former President Donald Trump.

It was Trump who morphed the makeup of the U.S. Supreme Court with three appointees, paving the way to overturn Roe v. Wade and give states the power to determine abortion restrictions.

"It's going to be a gut-wrenching experience for the people of this state to start hearing the horrific stories that are going to start coming out,” said Nikki Fried, Florida Democrats Chair. “The women making impossible decisions-- not getting the healthcare access that they need."

The DNC also announced Tuesday a series of billboard ad buys across Florida. They're set to run as the six-week ban takes effect and hit Trump in major metros with messages like Miami's: "THANKS TO TRUMP'S FL ABORTION BAN, CARE IN A STATE WITHOUT A BAN IS 858 MILES AWAY."

It came as Vice President Kamala Harris prepared a speech on abortion access in Jacksonville on Wednesday.

"Anytime you have someone, a president or vice president come to a state when it's an election year, that's a big deal," Dr. Susan MacManus, University of South Florida Professor Emerita, said

MacManus believed leaning in on abortion was a smart move for the Biden-Harris campaign. It could give them a shot at making inroads with swing voters, according to the pundit.

"Coming here and talking about an issue that's particularly high on the list of young female voters, who turn out at a higher rate normally, is a very good strategy," MacManus said.

Democrats have also become hopeful an abortion referendum on the November ballot — returning the state to viability (about 24 weeks), would buoy their turnout and help candidates up and down the ballot.

DeSantis thought the idea was laughable Tuesday — chuckling when asked about the prospect during a Tampa news conference. He touted the near-million voter lead Republicans have in registrations over Democrats and urged the Biden-Harris campaign to spend its cash.

"Light up the airwaves," DeSantis said. "Do it. Light it on fire. We are fine with you doing that here — but I can confidently predict that you’ll see Republican victories, not just at the top of the ticket but up and down the ballot."

Meanwhile, a coalition of anti-abortion groups continues to organize to defeat the ballot initiative, which is formally known as Amendment 4.

"We're going to spend the next six months talking about Florida's pro-life vision," Katie Daniel, the Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America state policy director, said.

SBA Pro-Life America members said Florida's new six-week restrictions were something to "celebrate" as they prepare to paint the ballot initiative as too sweeping, as it eliminates nearly all current state abortion laws except parental notification.

"Kamala Harris can bring her no life saved, every abortion performed tour to our state," Daniel said. "I don't think the voters are buying what they're selling."

The vice president's visit to Jacksonville is just the latest stop for the Biden-Harris campaign. President Joe Biden was in Tampa just last week and officials have opened up a campaign office in Hillsborough County as well.

While the president's team seems to be living up to a promise of investing to win in the Sunshine State, some operatives still believe this is just an effort to force Republicans to spend here instead of vital swing states up north.