- Associated Press - Sunday, June 7, 2015

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - The number of abortions performed in Arkansas increased in 2014 for the first time in almost a decade because of Tennessee and Mississippi residents coming to Arkansas for abortions, state numbers showed.

Mississippi has only one abortion clinic in Jackson, which has struggled to stay open over the last few years. One of three abortion clinics in neighboring Memphis shuttered after the Tennessee Legislature passed a law in 2012 requiring clinics to have hospital admitting privileges.

Arkansas Department of Health records released last week show the number of abortions in Arkansas increased by 541 to 4,273 in 2014, the state’s first increase since 2006.

The number of Tennessee women seeking abortions in Arkansas more than doubled last year, and the number from Mississippi almost doubled. Those abortions account for the majority of the increase last year.

Jerry Cox, president of the Arkansas Family Council, posted on the conservative group’s blog Friday about the increase in abortions. Cox and his son, David Cox, who also works for the group, have delved into the numbers to try to understand the increase.

“When I started looking into this, I thought the increase from out-of-state abortions was going to be something related to regulations,” David Cox said. “When I looked at the regulations in 2014, they were either comparable (in Arkansas), or Tennessee was more lax. Theoretically, it should have been easier to get an abortion in Arkansas, but that’s not what I found.”

Nationally, almost all states saw declines in the number of abortions performed in their state since 2010, the year before many legislatures began intensifying efforts to enact laws restricting abortions.

Arkansas records show that between 2010 and 2014 Arkansas saw a 5.7 percent decline in abortions from 4,532 to 4,273. Before the 2014 numbers were reported, the decline in Arkansas abortions was closer to 17 percent - more in line with other red states that have enacted strict laws like Arkansas’ ban on most abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

“All things considered, looking at about where we were back in the 70s, the overall number of abortions is way down in Arkansas. It’s just that they picked back up for the first time in a few years,” said Jerry Cox.

But the number of women coming from Tennessee to Arkansas for abortions increased from 207 to 542 in 2014, according to health department records. The number of women coming from Mississippi increased from 122 to 217 last year.

Danielle Wells, assistant director of State Policy Media for Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said the 2012 Tennessee law contributed to the closing of the Memphis Area Medical Center for Women. With the closing of the clinic and longer waits at the remaining two abortion clinics in Memphis, Wells and others speculated that more women seeking abortions could be choosing to drive to Little Rock, which may be closer than the Nashville or Jackson, Miss. clinics.

“With the laws that passed in Arkansas this year, it’s going to get harder for those women,” Wells said. “There’s an increased waiting period. And there was a restriction that shortens the window for women to obtain medically induced abortions to seven weeks. That’s an incredibly small window, and there is only one clinic that provides surgical abortions.”

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