IN 2009 George Tiller, an American doctor and abortion provider, was shot and killed while attending church in Wichita, Kansas. The gunman, an activist with a history of mental illness, testified that he had to kill Dr Tiller or else “babies were going to die”. Today the battle over abortion in America is fought less with guns and explosives than with laws hammered out in the country’s statehouses. This year Alabama, Ohio and Georgia passed laws to restrict access to abortions. Some of them in effect ban the procedure even in cases of rape or incest. Last Friday state officials in Missouri chose not to renew the licence of a Planned Parenthood clinic in St Louis. If a judge in the state’s Circuit Court allows the decision to stand, the clinic will no longer be allowed to perform abortions.
It would be a momentous decision. If the St. Louis clinic shuts down, Missouri would become the only state in the country without a legal abortion-providing facility for the first time since the Supreme Court legalised the procedure in 1973. Even if the clinic is allowed to continue providing abortions, it will face a slew of new restrictions. These include a ban on abortions after the eighth week of a pregnancy—an unusually early date. On average, states allow women to have abortions until the 21st week of pregnancy, according to Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health (ANSIRH), a research group at the University of California, San Francisco.
Access to abortions in the “show-me” state is already limited. According to an analysis of ANSIRH’s data by The Economist, Missourians live an average of 80 km (50 miles) from the nearest abortion facility, whether it be there or in another state. This pales in comparison with the hundreds of miles travelled by abortion-seekers in Wyoming or North Dakota. When measured in terms of women of childbearing age per facility, however, abortion clinics are scarcer in Missouri than in any other state. According to ANSIRH, five other states—Kentucky, Mississippi, West Virginia, South Dakota and North Dakota—have just one abortion facility. But whereas each of their facilities serves an average of 486,000 reproductive-age women, Missouri’s serves a whopping 1,365,000.