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Health

Patient Influx from Other States Increases Kansas Abortions

TOPEKA, Kan. — The number of abortions performed in Kansas increased by 9.1% last year as far more women traveled from Oklahoma and Texas to terminate pregnancies than in 2019 and the state reported that out-of-state patients outnumbered Kansas patients for the first time in almost 50 years.

The state Department of Health and Environment says 7,542 abortions were performed in 2020, an increase of 626 from 6,916 in 2019. 

Advocates on both side of the issue said Tuesday that much of that increase likely occurred because Republican governors in Oklahoma and Texas sought to ban most abortions last spring, prompting women from those states to travel to Kansas for the procedure. In Kansas, Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly refused to take a similar step, calling "reproductive health" an "essential need."

"People were really fanning out to states that still provided abortion care as an essential part of health care," said Julie Burkhart, founder and CEO of the abortion rights group Trust Women, which operates clinics in Wichita and Oklahoma City. "People were quite scared. They were desperate."

Women and girls from Oklahoma and Texas had 566 abortions in Kansas in 2020, up from 110 in 2019. The additional 456 abortions were the bulk of the total increase in abortions in Kansas. 

The Kansas health department said 3,901 abortions, or nearly 52%, were for patients from outside the state. The last time the department had reported that more abortions were performed on patients from outside Kansas than on patients from Kansas was 1973, the same year that the U.S. Supreme Court legalized abortion nationwide. 

"Gov. Kelly owns this increase," said Jeanne Gawdun, senior lobbyist for Kansans for Life, the state's most politically influential anti-abortion group. "We can now consider her the abortion-industry governor."

The report on abortions, release late last week, came as both sides prepared for an August 2022 statewide vote on a proposed anti-abortion amendment. The measure would overturn a 2019 decision by the Kansas Supreme Court declaring access to abortion a "fundamental right" under the Kansas Constitution.

The 9.1% jump in abortions was the largest annual increase since at least 1995, when the state began requiring all health care providers to report any abortions they performed. Since then, abortions in Kansas peaked at 12,445 in 1999, then declined in 16 of the following 20 years. 

A significant percentage of Kansas abortions historically have been performed for Missouri patients, particularly in the Kansas City area. In 2020, the number was 3,201 or 42% of the total. 

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