The Healthcare Crisis in the Southeast

This post was written by Pro-Choice North Carolina summer 2024 intern Anna Brent-Levenstein

To view an updated map on current abortion restrictions across the country, click here

On May 1, 2024, Florida joined South Carolina and Georgia in imposing a statewide six-week abortion ban after their Supreme Court ruled that the state Constitution’s privacy protections do not extend to abortion. This ban is having a devastating ripple effect across the southeastern U.S., an area that was already defined by highly restrictive abortion laws. 

Since the Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization decision, Florida has provided critical access for individuals in states like Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, and more that have enacted total abortion bans. While the state had a 15-week ban with significant restrictions, more than seven thousand out-of-state patients were able to access abortions in Florida in 2023. Now, local reproductive rights advocates estimate that 90% of individuals who sought abortions in Florida are forced to look elsewhere. In addition, the ban funnels money to crisis pregnancy centers which deceive pregnant people by providing them with misinformation designed to dissuade or even block them from accessing abortion.

Due to the ban taking effect in Florida, North Carolina is expecting to see an increase in out-of-state patients who will face significant hurdles as they attempt to access reproductive care. North Carolina’s already restrictive 12-week ban is also accompanied by a mandatory 72-hour waiting period in between two visits. Due to this, many providers are recommending that patients travel to Virginia or Washington, D.C., a recommendation that is untenable for many, especially low-income patients, and one that is likely to increase the demand at already over-burdened clinics.

This restrictive landscape isn’t just a blow to reproductive freedom, it is dangerous and deadly for pregnant people. Studies have found that states with restrictive abortion laws have maternal mortality rates three times those of states where abortion is legal. This is because abortion is healthcare and drastically restricting these procedures reduces the number of doctors and clinics providing all forms of reproductive care. In addition, these restrictions are often coupled with policies that make healthcare inaccessible such as ones that block insurance from covering pregnancy care, mammograms, and contraception. These disparities fall hardest on women of color who experience disproportionately high rates of maternal mortality and are most likely to lack access to the full range of reproductive healthcare, including abortion and birth control. 

Additionally, women in states with abortion bans have experienced medical crises exacerbated by those bans. Providers have attested to a range of life-threatening experiences including the denial of care in ectopic pregnancies, adolescents facing complications in forced births, heightened violence for pregnant people in abusive relationships, and permanent health complications because of the denial of care.

Luckily voters across the southeast, but especially in states like Florida and North Carolina, will have the opportunity to create change come November. In Florida, constituents will vote on Amendment 4, a constitutional amendment enshrining the right to abortion, that will require 60% of the vote to pass. In North Carolina, the outcome of the 2024 election will have decisive consequences for reproductive freedom. If anti-abortion Republicans manage to win the governorship or more seats in the legislature, they will look to pass more restrictive abortion laws that many in the party have been pushing for. In contrast, victories for pro-choice Democrats would halt this possibility, in addition to providing pathways for enshrining future protections for providers and for individuals seeking reproductive care, and for lifting unnecessary restrictions on care. 

The status quo of abortion access and reproductive freedom in the southeast is nothing short of dire. The time for action is now.

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