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Once a destination for abortion, Florida will soon have the most restrictive ban

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

First to Florida, where a six-week abortion ban will go into effect on May 1. That will have repercussions across the Deep South, where many states have already banned or restricted the procedure. As Rosemary Westwood from member station WWNO reports, the South is about to become the most restrictive region in the country for abortion access.

ROSEMARY WESTWOOD, BYLINE: Florida has long been a key hub for people seeking abortions in the South. Chasity Wilson is the executive director of the Louisiana Abortion Fund, which helps women get to clinics in other states.

CHASITY WILSON: I can honestly say Florida was a saving grace.

WESTWOOD: Florida is one of the top states for abortion access. Clinics there performed over 80,000 last year, according to a state health agency. And many patients are from neighboring states, says Wilson.

WILSON: A lot of our people wanted to stay in the South and wanted to stay what they considered close to home or at least a familiar place.

WESTWOOD: After Roe v. Wade was overturned in 2022, Florida became a destination for people wanting abortions in the Deep South since the majority of nearby states restricted most abortions almost immediately. Kendra Smith Parks with Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast says they've helped many people from Texas and Louisiana get abortions in states like Florida.

KENDRA SMITH PARKS: We had a patient in ICE custody who had been trafficked. We had a patient on the run from their abusive partner. A patient of very limited resources survived rape and incest and needed to end her pregnancy.

WESTWOOD: And in Mississippi, Michelle Colon helps people find legal abortions. She says everyone who would have traveled to Florida will now burden clinics in the remaining states with broad access - places like California and New York.

MICHELLE COLON: It's just this snowball effect, and all it's doing is that it's being exacerbated by these continuous ongoing bans on abortion access.

WESTWOOD: Colon said Florida's ban will have another clear consequence.

COLON: Not everybody can go to Illinois. Not everybody's going to be able to make it to Virginia. It means that they will most likely be forced to become a parent, endure a pregnancy and childbirth against their will.

WESTWOOD: But Florida's ban is welcome news for opponents of abortion rights in the South. Jameson Taylor helped pass Mississippi's ban.

JAMESON TAYLOR: I don't think abortion is a very good form of health care that serves women. And so, you know, if more and more states in our area are moving to make abortion illegal or to restrict abortion, I see that as a good thing.

WESTWOOD: Without Florida, abortions could get more expensive for many traveling from the South. Already, the cost can be into the thousands. Wilson with the Louisiana Abortion Fund says her group gave away over $1 million last year to clients to cover clinic fees, plus...

WILSON: Food, gas, childcare stipend, bus ticket, plane ticket, rental car, whatever practical needs you need.

WESTWOOD: She says even that isn't enough to help everyone who calls because their weekly allotment is limited.

WILSON: Typically, these days, we're running out of funds by Wednesday on any given week. Even if we aren't able to fund you directly, I'd be damned if we're not, you know, on the phones, contacting partners, trying to figure out what we can do.

WESTWOOD: People across the Deep South will still have the option to get around state bans by ordering abortion pills online. And this November, Florida voters will decide whether to add abortion rights to the state Constitution. For NPR News, I'm Rosemary Westwood in New Orleans. 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.

Rosemary Westwood is the public and reproductive health reporter for WWNO/WRKF. She was previously a freelance writer specializing in gender and reproductive rights, a radio producer, columnist, magazine writer and podcast host.