How Florida’s 6-week abortion ban will complicate access in North Carolina

A demonstrator holds a sign and a baby outside a House Floor gallery window at the North Carolina State Legislature after Republican state lawmakers announced their plan to limit abortion rights across the state. (Travis Long/The News & Observer/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)

By Michael McElroy

April 3, 2024

The influx of Florida women traveling to North Carolina to seek care will further strain a state that is one of the only sources of safe abortion care in the South.

Florida’s six-week abortion ban is set to go into effect on May 1, but the repercussions won’t stop at the state line. The influx of Florida women traveling to North Carolina to seek the care they need will further strain a state that has become one of the only sources of safe abortion care in the South and which is still reeling from its own 12-week ban passed by the Republican-controlled legislature last year.

Florida’s ban, doctors and abortion providers say, will increase wait times for reproductive healthcare in North Carolina and make it harder for residents here to get the care they need.

There were more than 80,000 abortions in Florida in 2023, Planned Parenthood South Atlantic said in a news release on Wednesday. North Carolina is now the closest state where abortion is legal through 12 weeks.

“Planned Parenthood health center staff in North Carolina are doing their level best to quickly expand capacity and increase appointment availability ahead of the near total ban in Florida taking effect,” Jenny Black, president of Planned Parenthood South Atlantic, said in a news release. 

“But it will not be enough to stem the tide of patients from across the South who have few options left,” she added.

“Patients who would have gotten an abortion in Florida will now be forced to travel hundreds of miles to obtain care in North Carolina and others may have to travel even farther to Virginia. Tragically, there will be countless others who are forced to remain pregnant, obtain care outside the health care system, or give birth against their will.”

‘Trying to keep up’

North Carolina is one of the only real options for many women from Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky, West Virginia and other states with near or total bans.

The backlog of patients from out of state was already making it harder for North Carolinians to jump through all the unnecessary barriers before the 12-week deadline, Dr. Robin Wallace, a family physician in Chapel Hill, told Cardinal and Pine last month.

“Our clinics have been so busy trying to keep up with those trying to seek care here in North Carolina, but also those from our neighboring states, especially Georgia and South Carolina, from where I see patients in the Triangle,” she said. “My colleagues in Charlotte and Asheville are seeing folks from Tennessee of course, and from other parts of the South.”

Florida’s ban includes exceptions for rape, incest, life of the mother and some fetal anomalies, but, confusion and hesitancy still exists among abortion providers in states that passed bans with exceptions, doctors say. The confusion in Florida will likely add to the confusion in North Carolina.

‘Completely arbitrary’

Dr. Erica Pettigrew, a family medicine doctor in Orange County, said in an interview before the Florida ruling that doctors in states with abortion bans often have to ask each other for help navigating the overlapping and contradictory rules across the country.

“We have text threads of physicians across the country where, without identifying any patient information, they may say, ‘we have a patient who has this condition, or the fetus has been diagnosed with this very rare anomaly, which states allow it and which states don’t,’” Pettigrew said.

“It’s bizarre, the patchwork of medical care that we are heading toward because it’s so completely arbitrary,” she added.

“You have politicians making these decisions and now patients are being told, ‘Well, you could get the care in Georgia, but not in Tennessee, maybe in North Carolina, definitely not Alabama,’” she said.

“I mean, what kind of bizarre conversation is that to the patient who may have a pregnancy that was very desired and they just found out that they have this heartbreaking anomaly that’s not compatible with life, but where they can go for care is unclear?”

The resultant chaos is the point, Black said.

“Let’s be clear, this was always the goal of these cruel bans. Anti-abortion lawmakers are hellbent on controlling our bodies, our lives and our futures. The politicians who’ve created this public health crisis must be held accountable for the irreparable harm they’ve caused in our state and across the nation,” she said. 


  • Michael McElroy

    Michael McElroy is Cardinal & Pine's political correspondent. He is an adjunct instructor at UNC-Chapel Hill's Hussman School of Journalism and Media, and a former editor at The New York Times.


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