Pro-life abortion restrictions taking hold across the country are having unintended consequences in a few states with less regulation: women traveling across state lines to kill their babies.
Half of the abortions performed in Kansas, more than a third of those in North Dakota, and almost a quarter in Tennessee are considered “out of state,” according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. Overall abortion rates in all three states decreased between 2008 and 2011—35 percent in Kansas, 14 percent in North Dakota, and 15 percent in Tennessee. But pro-life activists hope to see those numbers drop even further with new laws designed to cut down on abortion tourism.
In 2000, the Tennessee Supreme Court struck down three of the state’s abortion restrictions—a 48 hour wait period, an informed consent law, and a law requiring hospitalization for late-term abortions. The court cited privacy right infringement in its ruling.
As a result, Tennessee has become a destination state for abortions, according to a coalition of pro-life organizations campaigning for an amendment that would allow the state to pass more abortion laws that directly target out-of-state abortions. Surrounding states, including Mississippi and Alabama, have more stringent abortion guidelines, including wait periods. In a recent story, The Tennessean profiled a 27-year old woman who drove from her home in Alabama to Nashville, Tenn., to get an abortion. Her local abortion facility had closed due to surgical care standards passed by the Alabama legislature earlier this year.
But the goal of the new amendment isn’t to ban abortion, David Fowler, president of Family Action Council of Tennessee (FACT), told WORLD in December: “The goal is to put the constitution back where it was before the Supreme Court effectively amended it.”
While laws play a significant role, some women may travel out-of-state for convenience. North Dakota’s only abortion facility borders Minnesota, which can draw women across the state line even though Minnesota has more facilities, said Carol Tobias, president of National Right to Life Committee. Similarly, South Dakota also has only one abortion facility, located about 250 miles from North Dakota’s.
Meanwhile, Kansas has been playing legislative catch-up with bordering Missouri. “Historically, Missouri’s laws were better for a long time,” said Mary Kay Culp, executive director of Kansans for Life (KFL). The Kansas pro-life movement has embraced an incremental approach to passing legislation, partly due to liberal judges on the state’s Supreme Court, Culp said. Kansas facilities have drawn some Missouri women because a facility in Columbia, Mo., closed earlier this year after the state passed laws increasing facility regulations, leaving only one abortion provider in the state.
But facility closings in other states don’t mean that women who want abortions automatically choose to travel out-of-state, said Cheryl Sullenger, senior policy advisor for Operation Rescue. Many women choose abortion as a knee-jerk reaction to a crisis situation. “Abortion clinics prey on their vulnerability,” she said. Texas abortions have decreased by about 9,600 since the state enacted more stringent facility regulations, and Sullenger expects the number of Texas facilities to drop from 41 to 6 by September. But she said that doesn’t mean bordering state Oklahoma will necessarily see a spike in out-state-abortions. If abortion centers don’t exist, women won’t get abortions, she said.
If a region doesn’t have an abortion facility, women have more time to consider other crisis pregnancy options, sometimes through crisis pregnancy centers, Sullenger said. Brian Harris, president of Tennessee Right to Life, agrees. Strict laws don’t necessarily drive women to other states for abortions. “A certain number of [Mississippi] women who mistakenly think abortion is the only option will come to Memphis,” Harris said. But even though Tennessee currently doesn’t require pre-abortion counseling or a wait period, as Mississippi does, laws meant to educate women about abortion give them an opportunity to think.
“When given the fullest information, many more women will make the choice for life,” Harris said.