Dozens of protests supporting abortion rights unfolded across the United States on Tuesday, including one held outside the Supreme Court in Washington.
The demonstrations targeted a recent array of anti-abortion laws being adopted by conservative state legislatures that have voiced the hope that the ensuing legal battles over the strict abortion curbs will eventually push the court to overturn its landmark 1973 decision that legalized abortion in the country.
The laws have imposed various restrictions, often limiting abortions to the first few weeks of a woman’s pregnancy and sometimes before a woman would know she was pregnant.
The StopTheBans protests were sponsored by the American Civil Liberties Union, NARAL Pro-Choice America, Planned Parenthood Action Fund and other abortion rights groups.
“Across the country,” the groups said, “we are seeing a new wave of extreme bans on abortion, stripping away reproductive freedom and representing an all-out assault on abortion access.”
They described the new laws adopted or headed toward enactment in Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Ohio, Missouri and elsewhere as President Donald Trump’s “anti-choice movement … and it’s terrifying, particularly for women of color and low-income women who are most affected by these bans.”
In the southern state of Alabama, virtually all abortions were banned, an action that Trump, and some other Republicans who otherwise support most abortion restrictions, have said went too far. Trump two decades ago described himself as “very pro-choice” in support of abortion rights, but last weekend said he approves ending pregnancies only if they occurred because of rape or incest or if the life of the mother is endangered.
At the Supreme Court, several hundred abortion-rights supporters staged a protest against the new laws, most of which have yet to take affect and are being challenged in court suits as not complying with the high court’s 1973 decision.
Several Democratic presidential contenders looking to be the party’s nominee against Trump in the November 2020 election joined the protesters.
“We are not going to allow them to move our country backward,” Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar told the crowd through a megaphone.
Conservatives pushing for the abortion restrictions have been emboldened by Trump’s appointment of two conservative justices to the Supreme Court, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, who they believe will join three other conservatives on the court to make a 5-4 majority to overturn the Roe vs. Wade decision. The 1973 Roe decision upheld the right to an abortion.
Women in ‘The States’ are being strictly held when it comes to abortion. But, now they are finding relief out of the state. At a routine ultrasound when she was five months pregnant, Hevan Lunsford began to panic when the technician took longer than normal, then told her she would need to see a specialist.
Lunsford, a nurse in Alabama, knew it was serious and begged for an appointment the next day.
That’s when the doctor gave her and her husband the heart-wrenching news: The baby boy they decided to name Sebastian was severely underdeveloped and had only half a heart. If he survived, he would need care to ease his pain and several surgeries. He may not live long.
Lunsford, devastated, asked the doctor about ending the pregnancy.
“I felt the only way to guarantee that he would not have any suffering was to go through with the abortion,” she said of that painful decision nearly three years ago.
But the doctor said Alabama law prohibits abortions after five months. He handed Lunsford a piece of paper with information for a clinic in Atlanta, a roughly 180-mile (290-kilometer) drive east.
Lunsford is one of thousands of women in the U.S. who have crossed state lines for an abortion in recent years as states have passed ever stricter laws and as the number of clinics has declined.
Although abortion opponents say the laws are intended to reduce abortions and not send people to other states, at least 276,000 women terminated their pregnancies outside their home states between 2012 and 2017, according to an Associated Press analysis of data collected from state reports and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In New Mexico, the number of women from out of state who had abortions more than doubled in that period, while Missouri women represented nearly half the abortions performed in neighboring Kansas.
“The procedure itself was probably the least traumatic part of it,” Lunsford said. “If it would have been at my hospital, there would have been a feeling like what I was doing was OK and a reasonable choice.”
While abortions across the U.S. are down, the share of women who had abortions out of state rose slightly, by half a percentage point, and certain states had notable increases over the five-year period, according to AP’s analysis.
In pockets of the Midwest, South and Mountain West, the number of women terminating a pregnancy in another state rose considerably, particularly where a lack of clinics means the closest provider is in another state or where less restrictive policies in a neighboring state make it easier and quicker to terminate a pregnancy there.
“In many places, the right to abortion exists on paper, but the ability to access it is almost impossible,” said Amy Hagstrom Miller, CEO of Whole Women’s Health, which operates seven abortion clinics in Maryland, Indiana, Texas, Virginia and Minnesota. “We see people’s access to care depend on their ZIP code.”
Nationwide, women who traveled from other states received at least 44,860 abortions in 2017, the most recent year for which data are available, according to the AP analysis of data from 41 states.
That’s about 10% of all reported procedures that year, but counts from nine states, including highly populated California and Florida, and the District Columbia were not included, either because they were not collected or reported across the full five years.
Thirteen states saw a rise in the number of out-of-state women having abortions between 2012 and 2017.
New Mexico’s share of abortions performed on women from out of state more than doubled, from 11% to roughly 25%. One likely reason is that a clinic in Albuquerque is one of only a few independent facilities in the country that perform abortions close to the third trimester without conditions.
Georgia’s share of abortions performed on out-of-state women rose from 11.5% to 15%. While Georgia has passed restrictive laws, experts and advocates still view it as more accessible than some neighboring states.
In Illinois, the percentage of abortions performed on non-residents more than doubled to 16.5% of all reported state abortions in 2017. That is being driven in large part by women from Missouri, one of six states with only a single abortion provider.
Even that provider, in St. Louis, has been under threat of closing after the state health department refused to renew its license.
Missouri lawmakers also passed a law this year that would ban almost all abortions past eight weeks of a pregnancy, but it faces a legal challenge.
About 10 miles (16 kilometers) from St. Louis, across the Mississippi River, is the Hope Clinic in Granite City, Illinois, which has seen a 30% increase in patients this year and has added two doctors, deputy director Alison Dreith said.
About 55 percent of its patients come from Missouri, and it also sees women from Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio. All those states have mandatory waiting periods to receive an abortion, a requirement Illinois does not have.
Dreith called it a scary time for women in states with highly restrictive laws and few clinics.
“The landscape that we’re seeing today did not happen overnight, and it was not by accident,” she said.
And Illinois isn’t the only place Missouri women are heading for abortions.
In 2017, Missouri women received 47% of all abortions performed in Kansas. That is in large part because the only access to the procedure throughout western Missouri, particularly the greater Kansas City area, is across the state line in Overland Park, Kansas.
Between 2011 and May 31 of this year, 33 states passed 480 laws restricting abortion, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research organization that supports abortion rights.
In 2019 alone, lawmakers approved 58 restrictions, primarily in the Midwest, Plains and South — almost half of which would ban all, most or some abortions, the group said.
The most high-profile laws, which face legal challenges that could eventually test the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision, would ban abortion after a fetal heartbeat can be detected — as early as six weeks.
Advocates say that if the Supreme Court upholds the latest restrictions, it will become more common for women to seek abortions in other states.
“The intent of these lawmakers is to completely outlaw abortion and force people not to have abortions. But in reality, it pushes people farther and wider to access the care they want and need,” said Quita Tinsley, deputy director of Access Reproductive Care Southeast.
ARC Southeast is part of the National Network of Abortion Funds, a collective of 70 abortion support groups for women in six Southeast states. Some provide money to women to pay for abortions, while others also help with transportation, lodging and child care.
A third of women calling the group’s hotline for help end up traveling out of state for abortions, Tinsley said. Many choose Georgia because it’s convenient to get to and considered slightly less restrictive than some other states in the South.
In Georgia, which has a mandatory waiting period, a woman is not required to come to a clinic twice, as they are in Tennessee. But if Georgia’s new fetal heartbeat law survives a court challenge, it would have one of the earliest state-imposed abortion bans.
That would force many women to go even farther from where they live to terminate their pregnancies.
Increase in New Mexico
Of all states, New Mexico has seen the biggest increase in the number of women coming from elsewhere for an abortion — a 158% jump between 2012 and 2017, according to AP’s analysis.
The New Mexico Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice helps an average of 100 women a year but is on track to assist 200 this year. Some of its 55 volunteers open their homes to women coming from out of state.
Executive director Joan Lamunyon Sanford said her group is doing what faith communities have always done: “Care for the stranger and welcome the traveler.”
Lamunyon Sanford said the need is growing as barriers increase and women are unable to access care where they live.
“They have to figure out so many details and figuring out how they are going to get the funding for everything,” she said. “Sometimes it’s just too much. And then they become parents.”
The coalition helped Beth Vial, who didn’t learn she was pregnant until she was six months along after chronic medical conditions masked her symptoms.
As a 22-year-old college student living in Portland, Oregon, Vial was beyond the point when nearly every abortion clinic in the country would perform the procedure.
Vial’s only option for an abortion was New Mexico, where a volunteer with the New Mexico Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice drove her to and from the clinic in Albuquerque and brought her meals.
The support she received inspired her to join the board of Northwest Access Abortion Fund, which helps women in Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Alaska.
“To have people I didn’t even know support me in ways that I didn’t even really know I needed at the time was unlike anything I have ever experienced,” said Vial, now 24. “It has encouraged me to give back to my community so other people don’t have to experience that alone.”
Hoping for cultural shift
Abortion opponents say the intent of laws limiting the procedure is not to push women to another state but to build more time for them to consider their options and reduce the overall number of abortions.<