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North Carolina abortion law makes it difficult to travel for an abortion in the South


May 20, 2023

As lawmakers in North and South Carolina work to impose new abortion restrictions, the options for women seeking to terminate a pregnancy in the South are dwindling rapidly.

In North Carolina, the ban on abortions after 12 weeks of pregnancy goes into effect on July 1. Gov. Roy Cooper had vetoed the legislation, but the Republican-led state Assembly voted Tuesday to override that veto.

Also Tuesday, the South Carolina House of Representatives passed a six-week abortion ban, which now advances to the state Senate. And last month, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill into law that would ban most abortions beyond six weeks. The law will take effect if the Florida Supreme Court upholds its current 15-week ban in an ongoing legal challenge.

«We’re going to see a lot of people forced to continue their pregnancies against their will,» said Amy Hagstrom Miller, founder and CEO of Whole Woman’s Health, which operates two abortion clinics in Virginia, along with clinics in Indiana, Maryland , Minnesota and New Mexico.

Miller said she was preparing for more women seeking abortions to travel to Virginia, which will likely soon be the last southern state without abortion restrictions.

North Carolina’s ban makes exceptions for rape, incest, and «life-limiting» fetal anomalies. Supporters of the legislation argue that it offers a compromise on abortion.

“The things in this bill are not obstacles to abortion. They are safeguards. We seek to balance the protection of unborn babies and ensuring the safe care of mothers,” Acting Speaker of the North Carolina House of Representatives Sarah Stevens said in remarks on the floor Tuesday night.

Even before North Carolina’s 12-week ban passed, Miller said his Virginia clinics were seeing patients from all over the South. Since January, her call center has received more than 6,000 phone calls from people out of state seeking care in Virginia, she said.

Not all of those people make it to his clinics: Miller said that every day, a patient cancels an appointment, often after multiple attempts to reschedule, due to factors that prevent the patient from traveling, such as a child becoming ill or falling. A vehicle. through.

«They tell us, ‘It’s going to be easier for me to have a baby. I don’t know how to get there,'» she said.

The time it takes to make an appointment and arrange travel also causes some patients to delay abortions until the second trimester (on average, women don’t find out they are pregnant until between five and six weeks of gestation). In many cases, that will involve a surgical abortion, since abortion pills are approved for use only up to 10 weeks into the pregnancy.

The upcoming ban in North Carolina could exacerbate those problems, Miller said.

Amber Gavin, vice president of advocacy and operations for A Woman’s Choice, which operates three abortion clinics in North Carolina, said her clinics already had wait times of about 10 days.

Gavin said those waits may be longer once the 12-week ban takes effect, even if patient volume drops, because the new law requires an in-person visit three days before an abortion and requires that all abortions , even those made with pills, are made. administered in person.

«It just adds more administrative work to our doctors and our medical staff than is necessary,» Gavin said.

He added that his North Carolina clinics frequently see patients from Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina and Texas. Beginning July 1, the clinics will begin referring women more than 12 weeks pregnant to providers in Virginia, Maryland, Illinois and Washington, DC, she said.

«It’s going to have devastating effects across the South,» Gavin said.

One remaining option is The Brigid Alliance, a service that provides travel, food, lodging, childcare, and other logistical support for people seeking abortions in the US.

Clinics and providers can refer people to the service, which is funded by private donors. The typical group customer travels more than 1,300 miles round trip and has travel expenses of nearly $1,400.

«Many of our clients haven’t even left their county,» said Serra Sippel, the alliance’s interim executive director. «Many have never been on a plane before.»

In the long term, medical experts and political leaders also fear an exodus of doctors from states that ban abortion, which could limit access to both abortion and maternal health care in general in the South.

«North Carolina’s ban will harm patients and threaten doctors for providing essential care,» White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in a statement. statement on Tuesday.

Dr. Catherine Kuhn, associate dean for graduate medical education at Duke University School of Medicine, said residents training in obstetrics, gynecology or family medicine will likely need to travel to other states to learn how to administer abortions. after 12 weeks.

North Carolina could also have a hard time attracting new medical talent if the state is seen as hostile to reproductive health care, Kuhn added. A survey of medical students, released this week, found that nearly 60% said they were unlikely or very unlikely to apply for an individual residency program in a state with abortion restrictions.

«I’m concerned that, particularly in women’s health and reproductive health care, we’re going to see a decline in requests and interest,» Kuhn said.