Wichita, KS— In August alone, hundreds more women sought abortions in Kansas than before the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and many nearby states banned the procedure.
That represents one of the most significant increases in abortion numbers in the country, reflecting the deep-red state’s unlikely role as an abortion refuge in a region now increasingly devoid of other options.
A new report by the Society of Family Planning, a research group that supports abortion rights, found the number of legal abortions performed in Kansas rose 36% between April and August of 2022 — the second-largest percentage increase in the U.S., behind only North Carolina. During that same period, the number of abortions performed nationwide declined 6%.
“Notably, it wasn’t the states on the coasts that saw the greatest increases” in abortions, said Ushma Upadhyay, a professor and public health social scientist at the University of California, San Francisco who co-chairs the #WeCount reporting project. “It was actually states that already have some restrictions — states in the middle, that are closest to the states that banned abortion.”
States such as New York and California, which have passed legislation making themselves into sanctuaries for abortion access since the fall of Roe, saw only small increases in abortions by August according to the report, which relied on clinics self-reporting their abortion data.
In contrast, Kansas has relatively restrictive abortion laws, including a ban after 22 weeks gestation, a mandatory 24-hour waiting period and a requirement that minors get consent from both parents or a judicial bypass before obtaining an abortion.
But the state has become an unlikely abortion destination for people across the South and Midwest, where so many others have enacted near-total abortion bans.
Kansas voters soundly rejected a ballot measure earlier this year that could have led to an abortion ban — even as the state’s Republican-controlled Legislature could be poised to further limit abortion access next year.
“It shows that people are willing to put up with some restrictions, such as (state-mandated) waiting periods, if it doesn’t mean having to travel longer distances,” Upadhyay said.
The fall of Roe strained Kansas clinics
The report reflects what Kansas abortion providers have been saying for months: They’re overwhelmed by an influx of out-of-state patients. And, they say, the numbers would be much higher if they were able to see everyone who’s trying to get an abortion in the state.
Planned Parenthood Great Plains president and CEO Emily Wales said the organization’s Kansas clinics, which already saw many patients travel from Missouri and Texas because of tight restrictions in those states, are forced to turn away 85-90% of people requesting abortions because of a lack of appointments. That’s even after they opened a new Kansas City, Kansas, clinic in June.
“It’s pretty dismal. We are seeing ongoing, really high need — and we’re not meeting it,” she said. “Every single day, we are telling patients about potential access to care in Illinois or New Mexico or Colorado.”
Abortion funds have also seen a surge in requests for financial assistance from people traveling to Kansas for abortions.
The number of clients helped by the Midwest Access Coalition, which helps get people to clinics in the region, in Kansas surged from just four in April to 31 in August to 55 in October. Alison Dreith, Director of strategic partnerships, said the group saw a marked shift in requests after the fall of Roe.
“Prior to the Supreme Court decision, we were supporting mostly Midwesterners” traveling within the region, she said. “We’re supporting more people from the South right now.”
More Kansans are ordering abortion pills from overseas
Abortion providers say the chaos at Kansas clinics forces some residents of the state to travel elsewhere for care. Kansas doctors won’t prescribe abortion pills via telemedicine because of a state ban that’s currently tied up in court.
But new statistics suggest some Kansans are turning to self-managed abortion, which involves taking abortion-inducing medication without a doctor’s guidance.
The number of Kansans ordering abortion pills through the overseas pharmacy Aid Access doubled between May and August, according to a new article in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Orders increased most from states that banned abortion. But the among states where laws did not change, Kansas saw the biggest increase in orders — from about two per week for every 100,000 women of reproductive age to about four.
Abigail Aiken, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin and the article’s lead author, said that while medication abortion isn’t completely without risk, over 96% of people who attempt a self-managed abortion through the two-pill regimen of Mifepristone and Misoprostol don’t need further medical intervention, and less than 1% experience serious complications.
“That’s on par with the clinic setting,” she said. “Today, the medical risks are few and perhaps the biggest risks to people are actually legal risks.”
Aid Access is run by a Dutch doctor using an Austrian medical license. It’s the only organization that ships abortion pills to U.S. states with abortion bans. Legal experts say it’s not illegal for Kansans to use the service because the state’s telemedicine abortion ban only applies to doctors, not patients.
More Kansans could be turning to the service, said Aiken, because it’s harder to get appointments at their local clinics. But she said the rise could partly stem from the fact that even before the fall of Roe, abortion was relatively hard to access for people in many parts of Kansas, who might live hundreds of miles from the nearest clinic.
“Though the Dobbs decision has changed state laws, it’s also the case that it hasn’t been easy for people to access abortion from most states for quite some time,” she said. “Abortion bans … draw attention to other ways of obtaining abortion care. Some people are discovering, ‘I can actually do this in my own home.’”
Rose Conlon reports on health for KMUW and the Kansas News Service. You can follow her on Twitter at @rosebconlon or email her at email@example.com.
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