Florida's 6-week abortion ban is now in effect. Here's how the law affects access to the procedure in the Southeast.

Pro-abortion rights activists in Florida
Demonstrators in Orlando rally to protect abortion rights for Floridians. (Chandan Khanna/AFP via Getty Images)

A strict new abortion law goes into effect Wednesday in Florida that prohibits women from undergoing the procedure after six weeks of pregnancy.

In order for the six-week ban to take effect, the Florida Supreme Court first had to uphold the state’s current 15-week ban on the procedure challenged by abortion rights groups, which it did earlier this month. It then started the clock on a 30-day countdown for the six-week ban to take effect, which brings us to May 1.

Until July 2022, when the 15-week abortion ban signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis took effect, abortions in Florida were legal until about 24 weeks of pregnancy.

The newly enacted law bans abortion after six weeks of pregnancy. Many women don’t even realize they’re pregnant at that point, which is why many abortion rights advocates say the law amounts to a near total ban on abortion.

Under the legislation, the state also requires women to undergo two in-person visits with an abortion provider 24 hours apart before they are allowed to obtain an abortion.

Doctors will no longer be able to prescribe medication that induces an abortion via telemedicine, and the new law effectively outlaws abortion medication being sent through the mail.

There are some exceptions to the abortion restrictions in the new law, including when the mother’s life is in danger, or if there’s a fetal abnormality. And there are abortion exceptions until 15 weeks of pregnancy in cases of rape, incest and human trafficking, but women will have to provide proof, whether it be a police report, medical record or court order. Such requirements can pose a steep barrier for those seeking an abortion under those circumstances, as two-thirds of victims don’t ever report those incidents, according to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN).

Under the new law, medical providers also face criminal penalties if they violate any part of the 6-week abortion ban.

Florida, the third most populous state in the U.S., had become a major abortion access point in the Southeast after widespread abortion bans and restrictions took hold in neighboring states following the Supreme Court’s June 2022 decision that overturned Roe v. Wade.

Florida performed 15,000 more abortions than expected in the first 15 months following the fall of Roe, according to data in the WeCount report released in February by the Society of Family Planning.

The state has about 50 abortion clinics and performed about 84,000 abortions last year, with about 8,000 of them for women traveling from out of state, according to state health care data.

“We don't want to be an abortion tourism destination,” said DeSantis, who approved the six-week ban last year prior to his presidential run.

Now that the law has gone into effect, doctors in Florida will face difficult choices.

“It will be up to doctors to interpret the new law, and that can lead to denied care,” Dr. Robyn Schickler, chief medical officer of Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida, told the South Florida Sun Sentinel. “These laws tie our hands and put us in a position where we can’t just look at providing care from a medical perspective; now we have to consider it legally as well,” she said.

Neighboring states like Georgia and South Carolina have also enacted six-week abortion bans, while Alabama has a complete ban on the procedure.

As of May 1, women in Florida and neighboring states who are more than six weeks pregnant and are seeking an abortion may have to travel as far as Virginia or New Mexico to obtain one.

In November, however, Florida voters will be given the opportunity to undo the six-week abortion ban. They will be asked to weigh in on a ballot initiative to amend the state constitution so as to guarantee access to an abortion through 24 weeks of pregnancy.

In order for the amendment to pass, it will require 60% approval from voters. If it does pass, it would take effect in January 2025.