In Florida, policymakers are considering a bill that would ban abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy. This bill and the inflammatory rhetoric surrounding it are straight from the well-worn antiabortion playbook of vilifying abortion later in pregnancy, regardless of the real-world harms to pregnant people.
New data from the Guttmacher Institute reveal one aspect of just how severe the consequences of this ban would be for the 3.9 million Florida women of reproductive age (15–44) and their families. The average one-way driving distance for a Florida woman of reproductive age to a clinic that could provide abortion care at or after 20 weeks would increase from 14 miles to 469 miles—more than 30 times as far. Put another way, that would be a nearly eight-hour road trip each way on average, if driving nonstop at 60 miles per hour.
Moreover, under such a ban, 92% of Florida women of reproductive age would have to travel at least 300 miles—again, each way—to reach the nearest clinic providing abortion care at 20 weeks or later in pregnancy. And 80% of Florida women would have to travel at least 400 miles each way to reach the nearest clinic providing this care.
If abortion at or after 20 weeks were no longer available in the state, the nearest clinic for most Florida women would be in Georgia (95% of women) or Alabama (5%). In both of those states, abortion is severely restricted and 22-week abortion bans are in effect, meaning that people would have very little time to raise needed funds, navigate travel logistics and overcome additional abortion restrictions like mandatory counseling requirements. This also means that if a Floridian needs an abortion after 22 weeks of pregnancy, the next nearest provider would be all the way in Ohio, Illinois or Washington, DC.
The Harm of Restrictions
The vast majority of abortions in the United States—98.7% of all abortions—occur at or before 20 weeks’ gestation, and 88% are provided at or before 12 weeks’ gestation. Yet, the relatively small number of abortions that happen later in pregnancy must be supported by the full range of medical options so the provider and patient can make situation-specific decisions.
As is the case with all abortion restrictions, the harm of dramatically increased travel distances and related logistics would fall hardest on those already facing oppression in various ways—whether because of their lack of financial resources, young age, disability, immigration status or because they are Black, Indigenous or other people of color. We also know from research that people who are denied abortions have worse health outcomes, along with other negative impacts.
In Florida alone, there have been 24 abortion restrictions enacted since Roe v. Wade, and each was designed to deter, slow down or otherwise derail people’s ability to get the abortion they want. Any restriction on its own is an unnecessary hardship, and the cumulative impact of decades of restrictions can effectively push abortion out of reach for many people.
Some people need and obtain abortions later in pregnancy—for many different reasons, including fetal diagnosis, unanticipated life events or because they face other abortion restrictions that cause a delay. Regardless of the reason why someone is seeking an abortion, every pregnant person deserves safe and compassionate care.