With the exception of Virginia, there’s nowhere really left to go in the South for abortion care

With the Florida Supreme Court ruling earlier this month that the 15-week abortion ban cleared by the state Legislature and signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis is constitutional — and triggering an even more restrictive six-week ban — options for women seeking abortion care are now all but nonexistent in the South.

A total of 17 states nationwide have restrictive abortion bans on the books, including every state in Southeast Politics’ coverage area except for Virginia, which has not enacted restrictive bans since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. North Carolina has a less restrictive 12-week ban in place, but the Center for Reproductive Rights considers it hostile to reproductive care.

A total of 14 states, including seven in the Southeast, ban abortions in nearly all circumstances. States with the most restrictive bans in the nation include Alabama, Arkansas, Idaho, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas and West Virginia.

With the Florida decision, three states now have bans in place (or in Florida’s case, in place soon) that restrict abortion after six weeks of pregnancy — before most women even know they’re pregnant — including South Carolina and Georgia.

This is particularly bad news for women who live in the Southeast, where — again with the exception of Virginia — there are now no states left to turn.

While traveling to Virginia may be an option for people in neighboring parts of North Carolina, Kentucky (residents in northern Kentucky could also access care in Ohio) or Tennessee, or nearby states such as South Carolina or Georgia, residents in states like Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi are far from state’s where abortion access is not restrictive.

Residents in Texas could look further to the west, to New Mexico, where access has not been impacted post-Roe. The closest access to abortion care for residents in Arkansas is Colorado. Florida is the farthest away from any state offering accessible abortion care.

While this may be bad news for anyone seeking reproductive health care in states where access is limited, blocked entirely or even criminalized, the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee (DLCC) sees it as a wedge issue that could motivate voters and flip seats in the November elections.

“Attacking reproductive freedom is the first priority in Republicans’ playbook in the battle for state legislatures. Florida Republicans passed a restrictive abortion ban last year that was just greenlit by the conservative state supreme court — but they’re not alone. Every state with a Republican trifecta has passed legislation to ban abortion, and a whopping 17 states now ban abortion at 6 weeks or less — before most women know they’re pregnant,” said DLCC National Press Secretary Sam Paisley.

“From jeopardizing access to contraception and IVF to undermining life-saving health care, Republicans’ crusade knows no bounds. This is about controlling women. State legislatures are the most important ballot level shaping the future of abortion rights, and the DLCC is leading this fight. Electing Democrats to state legislatures across the country is the only path to combat the dangerous reality that Republicans have created.”

The DLCC is the Democratic Party’s dedicated committee for electing Democrats to state Legislatures, and it’s particularly focused this year on states where abortion could tip the scales in otherwise red districts.

It’s already happened.

In Alabama, Democrat Marilyn Lands flipped a seat — winning more than 62% of the vote — after its state Supreme Court issued a ruling regarding in vitro fertilization essentially declaring embryos were unborn children. The state legislature had to scramble to pass protections after IVF providers stopped treating patients amid liability concerns. Alabama also has a near-total abortion ban.

The district that Lands won, which covers the cities of Madison and Huntsville, is one of the more competitive in the state, though still maintains a GOP advantage with more than 52% registered Republicans compared to just shy of 42% Democrats, according to the most recent L2 voter data.

Land’s victory, which was earned largely on the reproductive freedom issue, brings the number of Democrats in the ruby red Alabama House to 29, of 105 members.

In a memo released in January, the DLCC announced a roadmap for 2024 races, including a $60 million budget — $10 million more than in the 2022 cycle — to reach its goals. That includes efforts to grow Democratic representation in Georgia and North Carolina, among other states nationwide.

In North Carolina, the group hopes to elect enough Democrats to the House and Senate to give a Democratic Governor (currently Gov. Roy Cooper, with Democratic Attorney General Josh Stein running to replace him) veto power of the GOP-controlled Legislature. In Georgia, the group hopes to make progress toward an eventual Democratic majority.

As a memo released in March points out, the group believes “state legislative elections this year will decide the future of abortion rights.”

Janelle Irwin Taylor has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in Tampa Bay since 2003. In early 2022, she left the business to serve as Communications Director for St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch. After leaving the administration, Janelle briefly worked as a communications consultant for candidates, businesses and non-profits, before accepting her position as Publisher for Southeast Politics, a homecoming of sorts to her Florida Politics roots, where she served as a reporter and editor for several years. Janelle has also held roles covering the intersection of politics and business for the Tampa Bay Business Journal and general assignment news with an emphasis on social justice and climate change for WMNF Community Radio, where she also hosted a political call-in show under several names, including Last Call, Midpoint and The Scoop. Janelle has a lust for politics and policy. When she’s not bringing you the day’s news, you might find Janelle enjoying nature with her husband, children and two dogs. You can reach Janelle at [email protected]

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