Thousands more travel to Kansas for abortions, study finds

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

“Our clinic averages 3,000 to 4,000 phone calls a day,” said Zachary Gingrich-Gaylord, director of communications for the Wichita clinic. “We have capacity for about 40 to 50 appointments per clinical day.”

The estimates reinforce new research showing 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 percent of abortion patients in Kansas traveled here from out of state — the second-highest percentage of any state in the country, according to analysis by the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supports abortion rights. Researchers estimate that 3,700 more people traveled to Kansas for an abortion in the first six months of 2023 compared to the same period in 2020.

The increase is part of a national 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 now travel out of state for abortion care,” said Kimia Foruzan, senior fellow for state policy at the Guttmacher Institute. “In 2020, it was about 1 in 10.”

The survey counted abortions performed within the official health system. It is the first to comprehensively analyze how the 2022 US Supreme Court decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which overturned Roe v. Wade, began to change interstate travel for abortion.

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

This sends patients across state lines in droves, often to places like Illinois and New Mexico, which have enacted “shield laws” to specifically protect abortion patients from prosecution in other states.

But states like Kansas, North Carolina and Florida — where abortions remain legal but limited and subject to constant legal attacks — also continue to send in an influx of patients. In Kansas, abortion remains legal thanks to a 2022 vote guaranteeing the right to abortion up to the 22nd week of pregnancy. Several restrictions in Kansas, including a 24-hour waiting period, are on hold due to ongoing litigation.

“The distance and the time it takes to travel is always going to be a really important factor for patients as they consider where they can get care,” Foruzan said.

Kansas borders Missouri and Oklahoma, which have near-total abortion bans, and is close to other states with bans, such as Texas and Arkansas. Wichita, in particular, is the closest abortion location to a region that is home to more than 1.8 million women of reproductive age, stretching south to Houston.

State clinics are flooded. Planned Parenthood Great Plains, which operates three clinics in Kansas, previously reported that it has the capacity to accept only 10 percent to 15 percent of people who request appointments.

At Trust Women, Gingrich-Gaylord said the increase in demand from out-of-state patients has made it much more difficult for Kansas residents to obtain abortions locally.

But people traveled to Kansas for abortions long before the Dobbs decision. During the 2020 reference period of the Guttmacher survey, 52 percent of abortion patients at Kansas clinics were from other states.

The Kansas Department of Health reports that Missourians performed 3,201 — nearly half — abortions in the state in 2020. That was during an era when Missouri had a 72-hour waiting period, making it one of the toughest places in the country to obtain an abortion, leading many patients to seek abortions in Kansas, Illinois, and Iowa.

Gingrich-Gaylord said the surge in Trust Women began when Texas passed a law in 2021 that banned abortions before many people knew they were pregnant.

“These burdens that people face existed before Dobbs,” Foruzan said. “But there’s just been a really sharp increase as the restrictions have increased.”

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

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

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *