Florida’s Six-Week Abortion Ban Will Force Longer Waits, Further Travels and Higher Costs

Florida’s new six-week abortion limit acts as a total ban. What does it mean for the millions of women in Florida and across the South who have relied on it for access to abortion care?

Abortion rights activists stage a counter-protest in Orlando on April 13, 2024, to kick off the “Yes on 4” campaign, which puts abortion rights on the ballot in the November 2024 election. (Chandan Khanna / AFP via Getty Images)

May 1 marks the first day that Florida’s law banning abortion after just six weeks of pregnancy takes effect. 

In April 2022, months before the overturning of Roe v. Wade, Florida passed a law reducing the legal period for abortions from 24 weeks to 15 weeks. A year later, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) signed an increasingly draconian bill limiting abortions to six weeks of pregnancy. The enforcement of this six-week ban depended on the legality of the 15-week limit.

On April 1, the Florida Supreme Court—with its five DeSantis appointees—delivered its verdict: The 15-week ban is constitutional under state law, and therefore, the six-week ban can take effect.  

The six-week cutoff effectively functions as a total ban. Pregnancy is determined from the last menstrual cycle; conception usually occurs in the second week, and the first sign of pregnancy—a missed period—typically appears around four weeks. This timeline gives patients as little as two weeks to recognize their pregnancy, schedule their appointment and arrange travel … assuming they realize they’re pregnant at all.

The law’s six-week timeframe is based on the state legislature’s assertion that a fetal heartbeat can be detected at six weeks. However, this claim contradicts scientific evidence, which shows that a fetal heart does not form until 10 to 12 weeks or later.

Florida also requires two in-person visits at least 24 hours apart before someone can get an abortion.

These photos show pregnancy tissue extracted at five to nine weeks of pregnancy, rinsed of blood and menstrual lining. The images show the tissue in a petri dish next to a ruler to indicate its size. (MYA Network)

The new law not only bans abortion after six weeks, but also bans abortion by telemedicine and requires any medication abortion to be dispensed in person, essentially banning mail-order abortion pills. 

(Editor’s note: The organization Plan C has a comprehensive guide to finding abortion pills on their website at www.plancpills.org. Select “Find Abortion Pills” and then select the state where you are located from the drop-down menu. The website is continually updated and has all the latest information on where to find abortion pills from anywhere in the U.S.)

Exceptions to the ban include cases of rape, human trafficking and incest up to 15 weeks, but require substantiating documentation like a police report or restraining order. There are also provisions for the pregnant woman’s health and fatal fetal abnormalities, where the fetus is expected to die at birth or shortly after. However, “there can be uncertainty about the threshold for when a pregnant woman’s life is at risk and some doctors are nervous to perform abortions even when they’re in danger,” Planned Parenthood physician Dr. Chelsea Daniels told NPR.

“This ban would prevent 4 million Florida women of reproductive age from accessing abortion care after six weeks—before many women even know they’re pregnant,” said White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre in a statement issued last year, after DeSantis signed the six-week ban into law. “This ban would also impact the nearly 15 million women of reproductive age who live in abortion-banning states throughout the South, many of whom have previously relied on travel to Florida as an option to access care.”

President Joe Biden speaks about reproductive freedom in Tampa, Fla., on April 23, 2024. (Andrew Caballero-Reynolds / AFP via Getty Images)

Indeed, this tightening of abortion laws in Florida not only impacts local residents but also affects those across the South who have sought services in Florida following restrictive changes in their own states. Florida performed over 84,000 abortions last year, including over 7,000 for women out-of-state, according to state data.

The nearest state where abortions can be performed after six weeks will now be North Carolina. Beyond 12 weeks, the options narrow further to Virginia or Illinois. Virginia and North Carolina performed significantly fewer abortions combined last year than Florida alone.

(Editor’s note: The World Health Organization has authorized use of abortion pills to end a pregnancy up to 12 weeks.)

The Florida Access Network (FAN) and other abortion funds across Florida are bracing for an influx of requests for assistance. Already, since the court approved the new restrictions on April 1, FAN has reported a doubling of abortion requests compared to the same time last year. In the wake of Dobbs, which ended federal protection for abortion rights, requests surged by 235 percent.

Stephanie Loraine Piñeiro, executive director of FAN, estimates that costs to support a single individual could now soar to $4,000—double the current average—due to the travel required to access services out of state.

These restrictions have placed significant operational and financial burdens on organizations like FAN, which assist women in navigating the logistical and financial hurdles of obtaining abortion care. By the second week of each month, FAN typically exhausts its budget, forcing the organization to cap the amount of aid it can provide. 

“There’s only so much money that we can extend,” Piñeiro said. “We’re not going to be able to serve the number of people [in need]. No organization can—the need is so immense. The resources are never enough.”

The ban also has wider repercussions on the community and healthcare providers. Independent abortion clinics, the biggest providers of abortion care, face escalating fears of legal consequences. This fear, coupled with the potential for more clinic closures, threatens to significantly reduce access to abortion services within the state, pushing more individuals to seek help from funds like FAN.

“People will always need abortion care. That need will never end,” Piñeiro said. “What will change now are the travel patterns, and the ability for people to get care and the type of reproductive care in their community. We expect, unfortunately, many people to keep their pregnancies even when they don’t want to now because they simply don’t have the resources to be able to travel to end their pregnancies.”

Come Nov. 4, Florida voters will decide whether to amend the Florida Constitution to enshrine the right to abortion, despite efforts by Gov. DeSantis to keep the question off the ballot. Now, more than ever, it is crucial to show up and vote to protect these fundamental rights.

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Wakaba Oto is an editorial intern at Ms. and is completing her undergraduate degree in English and journalism at Fordham University. She is passionate about investigative journalism, with a focus on uncovering misconduct in government and corporate sectors. She has roots in Amsterdam and Tokyo.