After Florida and Arizona abortion bans, some abortion funds are being pushed to the brink

Woman patient Planned Parenthood Abortion Clinic CHANDAN KHANNA/AFP via Getty Images
Woman patient Planned Parenthood Abortion Clinic CHANDAN KHANNA/AFP via Getty Images

Since the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization overturned Roe v. Wade, which provided Americans with a constitutional right to access abortion, states have been able to make their own laws on abortion access. This month two states, Florida and Arizona, passed laws that will make abortion services extremely difficult to access in an already restrictive landscape. As a result, the Chicago Abortion Fund (CAF), a non-profit organization that provides medical referrals and funds to people who are facing barriers to access abortion services, is preparing for an influx in patients — especially from Florida.

“Any time there is a shift in access, it impacts the whole ecosystem,” Megan Jeyifo, executive director of CAF, told Salon. “Just as a result of appointment availability, figuring out where people are going, and what kind of resources are available when they get there.”

Jeyifo elaborated that Florida is their biggest concern, as Illinois is likely to see an increase in patients from that state. Since Dobbs overturned Roe, Illinois has already seen an influx in patients from the south. Data from the Society of Family Planning #WeCount found that after Dobbs, Illinois saw the biggest increase in out-of-state abortions. Notably, Florida saw the second biggest increase. The bordering states of Florida, Alabama and Georgia, also face near-total bans. California saw the third biggest increase in out of state abortions.

“We know Florida has been serving much of the southeast,” Jeyifo said. “And we will certainly feel it immediately on May 1.”

Earlier this month, after nearly two years of legal challenges, the Florida State Supreme Court effectively ruled that a six-week abortion ban with few exceptions will take effect on May 1, 2024. Technically exceptions exist for rape and incest, but they require a copy of a police report, medical record or court order. The near-total ban will force Floridians to travel across at least two state lines to access care after six weeks of pregnancy.

To prepare, Jeyifo said, the Chicago Abortion Fund is working on ways to expand its services and budget. They’ve hired two additional support coordinators and additional patient navigators for their hotline. They’ve focused on hiring bilingual speakers to communicate with Spanish-speaking callers. They’re strengthening relationships with abortion funds. But one major barrier to doing all of this is that they’re struggling to bring in enough funds for expansion. Jeyifo told Salon they’ve never had to turn someone away from their services, but they’re “on the brink” of doing that “for the first time,” right as they’re about to face an influx in patients.

“If we don't have sustained support for those increases, the only people who are going to be able to access the robust protections we have in Illinois, the amazing clinicians we have in Illinois, are going to be people with means, and that is not what we want to happen,” she said. “We want to make sure that people most impacted by these bans can access all of the incredible work we've done in our state to expand them.”

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As Jeyifo said, when one or two states makes abortions harder to access, it affects states where abortions remain legal — and it puts more pressure on abortion funds in these states. A 2023 study published in JAMA Network Open found the number of out-of-state residents seeking abortions in Massachusetts rose to 37 percent in the four months after the Supreme Court ruled on Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization. Some patients traveled from as far away as Texas.

Despite bans and what anti-abortion activists want, abortion bans aren’t decreasing the actual number of abortions. According to a recent Monthly Abortion Provision Study, researchers found that the number of abortion in the U.S. increased by 10 percent in 2023 compared to 2020. In fact, abortion numbers were at their highest in 2023 in over a decade. Guttmacher Institute attributed the access to telehealth and increase in financial support to the rise despite abortion bans.

CAF isn't the only abortion fund worried that they won’t be able to support the influx in patients from Florida. In a statement, the DC abortion fund said it has “continually supported Floridian abortion seekers in the post-Dobbs era; whether they’re native Floridians coming to us for care after 15 weeks, or they’re Southerners forced to travel twice for their abortion due to gestational bans,” said Jade Hurley, DCAF’s communications manager.

“We expect the forced migration, starting May 1, to overwhelm clinics in North Carolina, Virginia and DC,” Hurley said in a statement. “In turn, overwhelming us abortion funds. We just don’t have the dollars, appointments, or capacity to serve everyone who will need us this summer.”

This month, the Arizona Supreme Court upheld a 1864 law — also passed long before Arizona even achieved statehood or women had the right to vote — that will ban nearly all abortions in the state. The decision superseded the lower court’s ruling on a 15-week ban that happened in 2022. While the state’s highest court put the decision on hold for 14 days, and sent it back to the lower court to consider “additional constitutional challenges,” as it stands the law going into effect is likely imminent. While Jeyifo doesn’t anticipate as big of an influx of patients from Arizona as Florida, amid reports that California clinics are preparing for such a scenario, she doesn’t rule it out.

“There was a period of time where Arizona had no access for a while,” she said. “And we certainly saw people from Arizona coming all the way to Illinois.”

Olivia Cappello, spokesperson for Planned Parenthood Federation of America, told Salon she’s “gobsmacked” by how much restricting access in these two states will have an impact “on the abortion access network across the country.”

“In the case of Florida, it means that there are going to be thousands of patients a year who have to travel out of state for care, or else carry a pregnancy to term,” Cappello said. “It’s not going to be only an impact on abortion providers, and abortion funds out of state, it’ll be a real impact on the maternal health care networks in those states, too.”

“Peoples’ lives are at risk,” Cappello said, adding that she’s been hearing from Planned Parenthood affiliates that they are concerned about having the capacity to see the increase in patients. For Planned Parenthood affiliates who are in states facing impending restrictions, they’re trying hard to connect patients who will need care with providers in other states. But still, traveling isn’t easy or possible for everyone.

“The reality is there are so many logistical barriers that not everyone is going to be able to do that,” Cappello said. “Even when they have assistance from Planned Parenthood or from abortion funds from their own networks.”

Cappello emphasized that the ripple effects of these near-total bans will have lasting effects on maternal health in the United States, too.

“It will have a significant effect on whether the state has providers of obstetric and gynecologic care, with people not wanting to train in those days or to stay in those states because they fear criminalization for offering the care that they are trained and ready to provide,” Cappello emphasized. “And we've already seen that sort of brain drain happen in states like Idaho, where in the months after Dobbs, hospitals have shut down or maternity wards or they do not have the staff to manage them.”