North Carolina and Florida become southern abortion havens

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[This story was first published by Stateline, an initiative of The Pew Charitable Trusts.]
In the month since the U.S. Supreme Court ended the federal right to abortion, red states in the Deep South have been one-by-one criminalizing nearly all abortions.

As of this week, most abortions are banned in Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi and South Carolina. Other states in the South also have strict abortion bans that are in flux because of court appeals.

But on the geographical edge of this block of Deep South states, abortion is expected to remain legal in two states, at least until the November elections.

Southerners are flocking to both Florida and North Carolina for clinical and medication abortions — in North Carolina as late as viability, typically between 24 and 28 weeks of pregnancy, and in Florida, until 15 weeks of pregnancy.

Neither state set out to become an abortion oasis, and neither state will necessarily remain one after the midterm elections. But abortion providers and their patients are evolving with quickly changing circumstances.

In an example of the whiplash in the region, the Tampa Bay Abortion Fund was helping Floridians who were more than 15 weeks pregnant travel north to Georgia for an abortion until early last Wednesday afternoon, founder Kelly Nelson said, when a Georgia court suddenly switched the state’s abortion limit from 22 weeks of pregnancy to six weeks.

Now, Georgians seeking abortions are driving south to Florida or north to North Carolina, depending on where they live.

Abortion medications set to become next legal battlefield

And Nelson’s group has begun helping its Florida patients who are more than 15 weeks pregnant travel mainly to Illinois, where well-funded health clinics and a supportive state government are prepared to provide abortions for tens of thousands of out-of-state patients every year for the foreseeable future.

“Our perspective is that anyone who wants an abortion can get one if they know who to call,” she said. “No matter what politicians do, there will always be organizations like mine that will make abortion possible. In Florida, we’re planning for the worst.”

Florida Voice for the Unborn and other anti-abortion advocacy groups in the state have asked Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis to call a special legislative session to consider a complete statutory ban on abortion, but so far, he’s demurred.

Unlike in their neighboring states, a majority of people in both Florida and North Carolina favor keeping abortion legal, according to recent polls. But since politics doesn’t always follow public opinion, most local political analysts are reluctant to predict November’s outcome.

Both states’ legislatures already are controlled by Republicans. But in Florida, abortion rights may depend on whether the governor is reelected, and in North Carolina, on whether Republicans gain a veto-proof supermajority.

Here’s what legal and political analysts are saying about the future of abortion rights in the South’s two outlier states: Read more