Out-of-state visitors push state’s abortion numbers up

40 Days for Life volunteer Marsha Boss stands with her umbrella outside the abortion clinic in Little Rock after employees turned the sprinklers on the sidewalk. She said she sees many out-of-state vehicles at the clinic.
40 Days for Life volunteer Marsha Boss stands with her umbrella outside the abortion clinic in Little Rock after employees turned the sprinklers on the sidewalk. She said she sees many out-of-state vehicles at the clinic.

While the United States saw an overall decrease in abortions last year, Arkansas was not so lucky.

In fact, according to an Associated Press study, Arkansas had 541 more abortions in 2014, bringing the total to 4,273, the first increase since 2007. However, a closer look at the numbers reveals that the women who live in Arkansas receiving abortions went down from 2013 by 57. Women who live out of state coming to Arkansas for abortions increased 43 percent, from 527 in 2013 to 925 in 2014.

“So there’s your increase,” said Rose Mimms, executive director of Arkansas Right to Life. “It’s always when restrictive laws are passed. They don’t think they can get an abortion in their own state.”

Diocese of Little Rock Respect Life Office director Becky Mullican said that while the Church celebrates any decline in abortions on a national scale, Catholics need to continue to be vigilant in praying for an end to abortion.

“Information about a rise in the number of abortions in Arkansas is less encouraging, however, and calls for a renewed commitment to prayer on our part as believers,” Mullican said in a statement to Arkansas Catholic. “We have great faith in the presence of Christ in each and every unborn child, pregnant mother and expectant father, regardless of their circumstances, their fears or limitations. It is incumbent on us as Christians to find Jesus in each person, to pray and work for the good of the ‘least of his children’ and to guard our speech and our actions. Our words and actions may be a powerful testimony to the mercy of God.”

Women coming from Tennessee to Arkansas for an abortion had the highest increase, from 207 in 2013 to 541 in 2014. Mimms said it likely had to do with the November 2014 passage of Amendment 1, a measure that will give lawmakers more power to restrict abortions. However, nothing went into effect in 2014 from that law, though it had been heavily discussed throughout the legislative session.

“Women don’t know that. All they know is a law was passed,” Mimms said. “They don’t bother to find out when it’s going to take effect.”

Mississippi was the next highest, with 122 in 2013 compared to 216 in 2014 coming to Arkansas for an abortion. Other states high on the list include Missouri, Texas and Oklahoma.

“We see it,” said Marsha Boss, who regularly prays outside Little Rock Family Planning Service, the state’s only surgical abortion clinic at 4 Office Park Drive. “Some days we see 10, 15 out-of-state license plates.”

On a national scale, the number of abortions in Arkansas has dropped 5.7 percent since 2010, due likely to state laws and restrictions, according to the AP.

“What makes us feel bad is that our state is getting people from other states working to prevent it … So that hurts,” Boss said. “Their business is going down where ours is going up. Some days almost every license plate is from out of state.”

Aside from legislation are several factors that abortion advocates point to in terms of why so many from out of state are coming to abort their babies in Arkansas.

Boss said most of the people she sees come from Tennessee, despite the fact that there are three abortion clinics in Memphis alone. However, Tennessee does not allow second trimester abortions, but Arkansas does and the Little Rock clinic uses anesthesia. Boss added that an abortion doctor from Memphis also comes down to the Little Rock clinic about once a week.

“There’s a lot of money in it,” Boss said, explaining these doctors can easily get rich off of abortions. “It’s $650 for a 10-minute procedure.”

Despite abortion being legal, Mimms said it’s still something that’s not openly accepted, another reason people travel from out of state. Though Arkansas Right to Life is not a religious-based organization, the goal of protecting life is a moral issue, she added.

“They travel because it’s still a secret, something they don’t want people to know they’re doing. After 43 years that to me is really interesting because if abortion is a right why would a woman not exercise that right freely and not be so secretive about it?” Mimms said. “Even though people say it is a right … people know in their heart it’s a wrong, it’s a sin.”

Nicole Lashbrook, executive director of the Arkansas Pregnancy Resource Center, which is across the street from the abortion clinic, said they’ve seen an increase in clients from out of state.

“We’re one of these states holding onto this last abortion facility for these women, an immediate solution. It’s disheartening because women … have more access to information online to get informed, but people are choosing not to learn,” Lashbrook said. “A lot of women come in because can’t read MapQuest and say ‘I’m here for my appointment.’ … They don’t know which way to turn, figuratively and literally … We say, ‘Hey we’re free, here’s information, it’s your choice.’ Then we’re able to refer them to their home state with pregnancy centers that can assist them.”

Lashbrook remembers a woman who came from Missouri to the center by accident. A few years prior to that pregnancy, she was raped and gave the child up for adoption. However, at six months, the child died from SIDS. The nurse at Arkansas Pregnancy Resource Center suggested instead of an abortion, reaching out to the adopted family to see if they would want this child.

“She said, ‘I never thought of this.’ What a wonderful way to honor that family,” Lashbrook said. “When she left, she had it in her heart this is what she needed to do.”

Though the center does not know what happened in that case, “sometimes it’s just that little seed that there’s hope” that makes all the difference, Lashbrook said.

Pro-life advocates all agree that the way to change the conversation is to turn hope into action.

“Get off your behind and do something. Prayer is a wonderful thing, but we need numbers, people that act on our faith,” Lashbrook said. 

Boss said while more people are praying outside the Little Rock abortion clinic, a larger united front is needed.

“They can come out there and pray; get out of our pews and talk to these girls. If we had 50 people out there every day, I guarantee that place would close,” Boss said of the abortion clinic. “People go about their lives and think somebody else is going to take care of it.” 

Aprille Hanson Spivey

Aprille Hanson Spivey has contributed to Arkansas Catholic as a freelancer and associate editor since 2010. She leads the Beacon of Hope grief ministry at St. Joseph Church in Conway.

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