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Thousands more people are now traveling to Kansas for abortions, research finds

Trust Women officials say most of the clinic's patients are from nearby states.
Rose Conlon
/
Kansas News Service
Trust Women officials say most of the clinic's patients are from nearby states.

In the first half of 2023, nearly two-thirds of people getting abortions in Kansas traveled from out-of-state, according to new data from the Guttmacher Institute.

WICHITA, Kansas — Eighty-one out of every 100 patients who go to the Trust Women clinic for an abortion have crossed state lines to get there. An average of 54 are from Texas, 21 are from Oklahoma and six are from another state that doesn’t border Kansas, clinic officials say.

“Our clinic receives an average of 3,000 to 4,000 phone calls a day,” said Zachary Gingrich-Gaylord, the Wichita clinic’s communications director. “We have capacity for around 40 to 50 appointments per clinic day.”

The estimates reinforce new research that shows the extent to which Kansas continues to be a significant abortion access point for people living in states with abortion bans.

In the first half of 2023, 65% of abortion patients in Kansas traveled here from outside the state — the second-highest percentage of any state in the country, according to the analysis from the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supports abortion rights. Researchers estimated that 3,700 more people traveled to Kansas for an abortion over the first six months of 2023 compared with a similar period in 2020.

That rise is part of a nationwide surge in abortion-related travel. In the first six months of 2023, 92,100 Americans traveled outside their home state for abortions — more than double the number from 2020.

“Nearly 1 in 5 patients are now traveling out-of-state for abortion care,” said Kimya Forouzan, principal state policy associate with the Guttmacher Institute. “In 2020, it was about 1 in 10.”

The study counted abortions provided within the formal health care system. It’s the first to comprehensively analyze how the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2022 decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which overturned Roe v. Wade, has begun to reshape interstate abortion travel.

Since the court’s ruling, 14 states have banned abortion in nearly all cases. An additional seven have restricted abortion earlier in pregnancy than would have been permitted under Roe.

Patient notes are pinned to the waiting room wall at Trust Women.
Rose Conlon
/
Kansas News Service
Patient notes are pinned to the waiting room wall at Trust Women.

That sent patients across state lines in droves, often to places like Illinois and New Mexico that have enacted “shield laws” to explicitly protect abortion patients from prosecution in other states.

But states like Kansas, North Carolina and Florida — where abortion remains legal, but restricted and a target of persistent legal attacks — also continue to field an influx of patients. In Kansas, abortion remains legal thanks to a 2022 vote that guaranteed the right to an abortion until the 22nd week of pregnancy. Several Kansas restrictions, including a 24-hour waiting period, are on hold due to ongoing litigation.

“Distance and the amount of time it takes to travel is always going to be a really important factor for patients as they’re considering where they can get care,” Forouzan said.

Kansas borders Missouri and Oklahoma, which both have near-total abortion bans, and is close to other states with bans, like Texas and Arkansas. Wichita, in particular, is the nearest place to get an abortion for a region that is home to more than 1.8 million women of reproductive age, stretching as far south as Houston.

The state’s clinics have been inundated. Planned Parenthood Great Plains, which operates three Kansas clinics, has previously reported only having capacity to see 10% to 15% of people who request appointments.

At Trust Women, Gingrich-Gaylord said the surge in demand from out-of-state patients has, consequently, made it much more difficult for Kansans to get abortions locally.

But people have been traveling to Kansas for abortions long before the Dobbs decision. During the Guttmacher study’s 2020 reference period, 52% of abortion patients at Kansas clinics were from other states.

The Kansas health department reports that Missourians accounted for 3,201 — nearly half — of abortions in the state in 2020. That was during an era when Missouri had a 72-hour waiting period that made it one of the most difficult places in the country to get an abortion, leading many patients to seek abortions in Kansas, Illinois and Iowa.

Gingrich-Gaylord said the surge at Trust Women began when Texas enacted a 2021 law that banned abortion before many people know they’re pregnant.

“These burdens that people are facing, this existed before Dobbs,” Forouzan said. “But there’s just been a really stark increase as restrictions have increased.”

Rose Conlon reports on health for KMUW and the Kansas News Service.

The Kansas News Service is a collaboration of KCUR, KMUW, Kansas Public Radio and High Plains Public Radio focused on health, the social determinants of health and their connection to public policy.

Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished by news media at no cost with proper attribution and a link to ksnewsservice.org.

Rose Conlon is a reporter based at KMUW in Wichita, but serves as part of the Kansas News Service, a partnership of public radio stations across Kansas. She covers health, the social determinants of health and their connection to public policy.