Why did Kansas have so many abortions in 2008?

at 12:22 PM ET, 06/13/2012

The Atlantic Cities has put together an interesting collection of maps that look at the geography of abortion. On the left, you can see the abortion rate for each state (per 1,000 women). On the right is the abortion rate just for residents of that state:

Let’s focus on Kansas. That state, according to Center for Disease Control data, has an abortion rate of 19.2, slightly higher than the national average of 16 per every 1,000 women. Sort the data by state of residence, and Kansas has a much lower abortion rate; 10.1 of every 1,000 Kansas women terminated a pregnancy.. What’s going on here?

To answer that, we have a third map: The percent of abortions obtained by out-of-state residents. On that measure, Kansas ranks incredibly high. Of the 5,617 abortions performed in Kansas in 2008, 48.4 percent of them were for women who did not live in Kansas.

Kansas does not, by any measure, have the most liberal abortion laws. NARAL Pro-Choice America gives the state an “F” on access to abortion. But what it did have, in 2008, was Dr. George Tiller, one of the country’s few late-term abortion providers (Tiller was, in 2009, murdered by an anti-abortion activist). As one of the few doctors who provided abortions in the third trimester, many of patients travelled to his clinic from out of state. Kansas is also surrounded by rural areas, which are also less likely to have an abortion provider than urban areas. Taken together, that likely explains why, in 2008, Kansas had a relatively high abortion rate even when relatively few Kansas women terminated pregnancies.

It’s not unusual for women to travel significant distances to terminate a pregnancy. A 2005 article in Annual Review of Public Health that found “nearly one quarter (24 percent) of women seeking abortion travel 50 miles or more to find a capable physician.” That likely has to do with the dwindling number of abortion providers, a population that has shrunk from just under 3,000 in the late 1970s to 1,793 today. With fewer abortion providers, women tend to travel to wherever they choose to set up practice.

 
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