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What Florida’s New 6-Week Abortion Ban Means for the South, and Traveling Patients – KFF Health News

Monica Kelly was thrilled to learn that she was expecting her second child.

A Tennessee mother was about 13 weeks pregnant when doctors gave her the devastating news that her baby would be aborted, according to a lawsuit filed against the state of Tennessee. patau syndrome,

The genetic disorder causes severe developmental defects and often results in miscarriage, stillbirth, or death within a year of birth. Doctors told her that continuing the pregnancy would put her at risk for infection and complications, including high blood pressure, organ failure, and death.

But he said he could not perform an abortion because of a Tennessee law banning most abortions, which took effect two months after the repeal. roe vs wade In June 2022, court records show.

So Kelly went to a hospital in northwest Florida to get an abortion when she was about 15 weeks pregnant. She is one of seven women and two doctors Tennessee lawsuit Because they say the state’s almost complete abortion ban puts the lives of pregnant women at risk.

State data shows more than 25,000 women like Kelly traveled to Florida for abortions over the past five years. Most came from states such as Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi where there was little or no access to abortion, Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows, Hundreds of people traveled from as far as Texas.

But a recent Florida Supreme Court decision paved the way for the Sunshine State to enact a six-week ban starting in May, effectively leaving women in much of the South with little or no access to abortion clinics. There was no access left. The ban could be short-lived if 60% of Florida voters in November approve a constitutional amendment adding abortion rights.

Meanwhile, nonprofit groups are warning they may not be able to meet the growing demand for help as women from Florida and other Southeastern states travel for abortions. They fear that women who lack resources will be forced to terminate unwanted pregnancies because they cannot afford to travel to states that have greater access to abortion.

This could include women whose pregnancies, like Kelly’s, put them at risk.

“The six-week ban is really a problem for not just Florida but the entire Southeast,” said McKenna Kelly, a board member of the Florida International Airport. Tampa Bay Abortion Fund, “Florida was the last man standing for abortion access in the Southeast.”

Travel restrictions and strict borders

Supporters of the Florida restrictions are not backing down. Some people want even stricter limits. Republican state representative. mike beltran Voted for both a 15-week and six-week ban. Most abortions are elective and abortions related to medical complications are a small portion, he said.

state data It turns out that 95% of abortions last year were either elective or done for social or economic reasons. More than 5% were related to issues related to the health of the mother or fetus.

Beltran said he would support a ban on travel for abortions but knew it would be challenged in the courts. He said he would support measures that prevent employers from requiring workers to travel for abortions and make such costs tax-deductible.

“I don’t think we should make it easier for people to travel for an abortion,” she said. “We must do things to prevent violations of the law.”

Both abortion bans were also supported by a GOP state lawmaker joel rudman, Rudman said that, as a physician, he has delivered more than 100 babies and sees nothing in the current law that sacrifices patient safety.

“This is a good common law that provides reasonable exceptions, yet respects the sanctity of the life of both mother and child,” he said in a text message.

Last year, the first full year that restrictions were in place in many Southern states, more than 7,700 women traveled to Florida for abortions, an increase of nearly 59% from three years earlier.

The Tampa Bay Abortion Fund, which focuses on helping local women, found itself assisting an influx of women from Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi, Louisiana and other states, Kelly said.

In 2023, it paid more than $650,000 for recruiting costs and more than $67,000 in other expenses such as plane tickets and accommodations. The majority of those seeking assistance are from low-income families, including minorities or people with disabilities, Kelly said.

“We ask each person, ‘What can you contribute?'” she said. “Some people say zero and that’s OK.”

Florida’s new law will mean his group will have to work again. The focus now will be on helping people seeking abortions travel to other states.

But the destinations are farther away and more expensive. He predicted that most women would head to New York, Illinois or Washington, with clinic appointments often more expensive in those states. The additional travel distance will mean that help with hotels and airfare is needed.

North Carolina, which allows abortion up to about 12 weeks of pregnancy, may be a slightly cheaper option for some women whose pregnancy is not too far along, he said.

Meeting that need is a concern, he said. Donations to the group increased to $755,000 in 2022, which Kelly described as an “anger donation” made after the U.S. Supreme Court ended half a century of guarantees of the federal right to abortion.

The anger could not last. Donations will drop to $272,000 in 2023, he said.

“We’re going to have big problems in a few weeks,” he said. “Many people who need an abortion are unable to access it. “It’s really scary and sad.”

Gray areas create confusion

Chicago Abortion Fund It is hoped that many women from the south-eastern states will look forward to it.

Illinois offers abortion until the fetus is viable – approximately 24 to 26 weeks. The state five years ago repealed its law that required parents to notify their children if they sought an abortion.

Nearly 3 in 10 abortions were performed in Illinois two years ago – about 17,000 – Including out-of-state residents, up from less than a quarter last year, according to state records.

The Chicago nonprofit has prided itself on not turning down requests for help over the past five years, said Qudsiah Sharif, deputy director. It is adding staff, including Spanish-speaking people, to deal with an anticipated increase in calls for help from southern states. He hopes Florida voters will make the crisis short-lived.

“We’re estimating we’ll need an additional $100,000 per month to meet the influx of people coming from Florida and the South,” he said. “We know that unless something potentially changes, these are going to be a really tough eight months.”

Losing access to abortion, especially among vulnerable groups such as pregnant teens and women with pregnancy complications, may increase cases of mental illness such as depression, anxiety, and even post-traumatic stress disorder. sylvia kaminskiA licensed marriage and family therapist in Miami.

Kaminsky, who serves as board chairman of American Association for Marriage and Family Therapysaid the group has received calls from physicians asking for legal guidance on whether they can help a client who wants to travel for an abortion.

This is especially true in states such as Alabama, Georgia, and Missouri, which have passed laws granting “personhood” status to fetuses. Many states, including Florida, require therapists to report a client who intends to harm another person.

“It’s creating all these gray areas that we haven’t had to deal with before,” Kaminski said.

Deborah Dorbert of Lakeland, Florida, said Florida’s 15-week abortion limit put her health at risk and forced her to give birth to a baby who had no chance of survival.

Her unborn child was diagnosed with potter syndrome In November 2022. An ultrasound taken at 23 weeks of pregnancy revealed that the fetus had not developed enough amniotic fluid and that its kidneys were underdeveloped.

Doctors told her that her baby would not survive outside the womb and that there was a high risk of stillbirth and, for her, preeclampsia, a complication of pregnancy that can result in high blood pressure, organ failure, and death.

Dorbert said one option suggested by doctors was premature induction, essentially an abortion.

Dorbert and her husband were heartbroken. They decided that abortion was their safest option.

Deborah Dorbert holds a page from the book “I Will Love You Forever” open with the handprints and footprints of her son Milo Evan Dorbert, who died in March 2023.(Luis Santana/Tampa Bay Times)

At Lakeland Regional Health, she said, she was told her surgery would have to be approved by the hospital administration and her attorneys because Florida had enacted a 15-week abortion ban that year.

Florida’s abortion law includes an exemption if two physicians certify in writing that the fetus has a fatal abnormality and has not reached viability. But in his case a month passed before getting a reply. Their doctor told them the hospital didn’t think they could legally perform the procedure and that they would have to abort the baby, Dorbert said.

Lakeland Regional Health did not respond to repeated calls and emails seeking comment.

Dorbert’s gynecologist had told her that some women travel for abortions. But Dorbert said she couldn’t afford the trip and was worried she might break the law by going out of state.

At 37 weeks, doctors agreed to induce Dorbert. She checked into Lakeland Regional Hospital in March 2023 and, after a long and painful labor, gave birth to a boy named Milo.

“When he was born, he was blue; He did not open his eyes; He didn’t cry,” she said. “The only sound you heard was her gasping for air over and over again.”

She and her husband took turns holding Milo. He read her a book about a mother polar bear who tells her cubs that she will love them forever. She sang Bob Marley and The Wailers’ “Three Little Birds” for Milo with the chorus “Every little thing will be alright.”

Milo died in his mother’s arms 93 minutes after birth.

A year later, Dorbert is still dealing with the pain. The grief is still “overwhelming” some days, he said.

She and her husband have discussed trying for another child, but Florida’s abortion laws make her wary of another pregnancy with complications.

“It makes you angry and frustrated. I couldn’t get the health care I needed and the advice my doctors gave me,” she said. “I know I can’t go through what I went through again.”

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