Why Tennessee is no longer the 'abortion capital' of the South

This image was removed due to legal reasons.

People go to Tennessee to visit Graceland and the Grand Ole Opry. But did you know they also go there for abortions? That’s because if you live south of the Mason-Dixon Line, it's become damn near impossible to get a legal abortion.

Tennessee, on the other hand, had comparatively lenient abortion laws, which gave it the unique distinction of being a destination for “abortion tourism.” Until now.

On Tuesday, Tennessee voters passed a ballot initiative known as Amendment One, which gives the state legislature the power to restrict abortions. Hours after the measure passed, Republican state congresswoman Beth Harwell announced she's backing three new bills to increase abortion regulations, including a mandatory one-week waiting period for women seeking abortions.

This image was removed due to legal reasons.

But let's back up. How important are Tennessee's abortion laws to those outside the state? In a word: Very. Right now an estimated one out of every four women receiving an abortion in Tennessee lives in another state.

Neighboring Arkansas has only five abortion providers for the entire state, according to the Guttmacher Institute. Let's put that into perspective: 97 percent of the counties in Arkansas have NO abortion clinics.


The situation is even worse in Mississippi. The state has only two abortion providers statewide, and 91 percent of the women in Mississippi live in counties without any access to legal abortions. Kentucky only has three abortion providers for the entire state.


And this is why so many eyes are on Tennessee right now. It was the state's penchant for small government that kept abortion laws so lenient in an otherwise conservative state. In 2000, a state Supreme Court rejected attempts to impose waiting periods on abortions because the courts felt that preventing access to the procedure was government overreach, plain and simple. Since then, pro-life enthusiasts have chipped away at abortion guarantees, using Tennessee's reputation as the 'abortion destination' to sway voters towards supporting Amendment One in Tuesday’s midterms.


As one cynical tweeter put it:


Cleo Stiller is a digital producer covering the intersections of sex, tech and culture. Words to live by: get your money's worth.

Share This Story

Get our `newsletter`