Florida abortion funding organizations held an advocacy day in Tallahassee on Wednesday, urging lawmakers to support women who must travel out of state for procedures.
The Florida Senate passed a bill Monday that would ban abortions after six weeks and also prohibit state agencies, cities, counties or universities from spending money for a woman to travel to another state to receive abortion care.
The city of St. Petersburg has offered to grant $50,000 to the Tampa Bay Abortion Fund, which helps area women travel to get abortion care if they are over 15 weeks, the current state limit.
“Abortion funds exist because people need health care and can’t afford it,” said Chris Lawler, board president of the Tampa Bay Abortion Fund. “We’re donation-based.”
[ RELATED: Is it really possible to get an abortion within six weeks? ]
Florida has five abortion funding organizations based in the state, two that are multistate and offer support to Florida residents, and four national groups that provide assistance in every state.
Requests from women in Florida for financial support for abortion travel have increased 200 percent to 300 percent in the past year, the organization’s directors say. The increase in demand follows Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the 15-week ban into law last April. The law has no exceptions for rape or incest and is being challenged in the Florida Supreme Court.
Funding group directors held a press conference in the Capitol Rotunda on Wednesday, met with lawmakers and dropped off pamphlets at lawmakers’ offices to educate them about the role of abortion funds. The funds are independent grassroots organizations that help women pay for abortions and travel expenses, as well as assist with logistics. Each group operates differently in what expenses they cover and for whom.
“We wanted to present the concept to legislators that we are a resource for the people in the communities that we represent,” said Stephanie Lorraine Pinheiro, co-executive director of the Florida Access Network, one of the Florida-based organizations. “We are non-profit and not affiliated with any political party.”
The bill, banning abortions after six weeks, with some exceptions, would be one of the strictest in the country and still needs to pass the GOP-led House, where a nearly identical version made it out of committee. It could come to a vote in the House as early as next week.
Congresswoman Anna Escamani said language banning government financial support for abortions is also in the House bill, and she doesn’t see much hope that it will be removed.
“It’s not unusual for the state to get ahead of local governments,” she said.
Escamani took part in the press conference on Wednesday and said that the majority of women who want to terminate their pregnancies are for more than six weeks.
“Florida residents will have to leave the state for abortions, and funding plays an essential role in ensuring access to care,” she said.
Funding groups accomplished their goal Wednesday of drawing attention to their ongoing role, Pinheiro said. “We were able to give some legislators more understanding of what it takes to help someone get abortion care. We were able to shed light on the cost and all the preparation before you get to the meeting.”
Costs vary for women to travel from Florida to have an abortion, depending on the nearest airport, childcare needs and hotel stay. If the six-week ban becomes law, the closest state with fewer restrictions would be North Carolina.
Lawler said her fund is already preparing for a six-week ban and the spike in need it will create. “We are already reaching out to donors and supporters to get more help for the women who will have to travel. We plan for the worst and hope for the best.”
Sun Sentinel health reporter Cindy Goodman can be reached at [email protected].