Kansas — A new, near-total ban on abortion in Oklahoma has Kansas clinics bracing for a flood of women traveling to the state for a procedure outlawed where they live.
That law change could drive a new wave of women coming from Oklahoma, Texas and other states to one of the few remaining states in the country’s mid-section that remains home to a handful of abortion clinics.
Oklahoma’s Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt signed legislation this week making abortion a felony. A conviction would come with up to 10 years in prison. Oklahoma still allows abortions for pregnancies that pose a health risk, but does not offer exemptions for pregnancies that result from rape or incest.
The law takes effect in August, but the leading abortion clinic in Kansas expects Oklahoma women could start looking for out-of-state procedures much sooner.
Zack Gingrich-Gaylord, a spokesman for Trust Women, said the law will only further intensify the number of Oklahoma women seeking services at the organization’s clinic in Wichita. Before the law passed, he said, about 50% of the people receiving services at that clinic were from out of state. The vast majority of those people were from Oklahoma.
“Losing much more access in this region is very concerning, particularly because there is not that much access to begin with,” he said.
Oklahomans have already turned to Kansas for abortions because women traveling from Texas have overwhelmed Oklahoma clinics. Texas enacted significant abortion restrictions in 2021. Kansas saw an increase of women seeking service then too, making it an unlikely abortion refuge.
Kansans for Life, a powerful anti-abortion group, has called the state at the time a “regional destination for abortion.”
Gingrich-Gaylord said Texas has many abortion clinics, but some Texas women can’t receive services at those clinics because their pregnancies are past the state’s six-week threshold. That has put a significant strain on the clinics in nearby states.
“Cities in Texas — Dallas and Houston — have more clinics than the entire state of Kansas,” Gingrich-Gaylord said. “Asking the region to take on that volume is a really difficult ask.”
Oklahoma is one of several states enacting abortion bans in anticipation that the U.S. Supreme Court could be poised to overturn Roe v. Wade. Other states, such as Arizona and Wyoming, approved laws that will go into effect only if the Supreme Court reverses the ruling that’s protected abortion rights since 1973.
If the nation’s high court overturns that precedent, the country would be covered with a state-by-state patchwork of differing abortion laws. That, in turn, could lead women to travel from their home states for places where it remains legal, including Kansas.
But Kansas may not be an abortion destination much longer. The Kansas Legislature in 2021 sent a state constitutional amendment to voters that says there is no right to an abortion in Kansas.
Kansas voters will be asked to approve the amendment in August during the 2022 primary election. If the amendment is approved, the state’s Republcian lawmakers — who currently hold a supermajority in the Legislature — are likely to pursue abortion bans like the one in Oklahoma.
The amendment would specifically wipe out a 2019 Kansas Supreme Court decision that protects abortion rights.
“It’s not a gateway to a ban to abortion,” Danielle Underwood of Kansans For Life said in 2021. “It is correcting a very specific legal decision that was an overreach.”
But Gingrich-Gaylord said Kansas will likely consider a total ban quickly like other Republican-dominated states.
“Kansas right now has one of the stronger protections for abortion care in the country, and it’s a really valuable thing,” he said. “If the amendment passes, then all of that is out the window.”
Dylan Lysen reports on politics for the Kansas News Service. You can follow him on Twitter @DylanLysen or email him at dlysen (at) kcur (dot) org.
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