The Return of Abortion Tourism

As Texas and an increasing number of states are saving the lives of unborn children by successfully implementing restrictive abortion laws, we are already witnessing the return of the pre-Roe era of “abortion tourism.” It is likely that once again—as in the early 1970s—New York City will be the deadly destination of choice for women seeking abortion outside of their home states. As Paul Kengor’s recent Crisis article pointed out, New York State’s pro-abortion Catholic Governor Kathy Hochul has already promised that if women are unable to access abortion services in their home states, “Lady Liberty is here to welcome you with open arms” into their abortion clinics.   

Promising to provide “safe passage” for women, Hochul is resurrecting the very lucrative pre-Roe abortion tourism for abortion seekers from all over the country. Replete with abortion packages including airfare, limo rides from New York City’s airports to abortion facilities, pre-and post-abortion hotel stays, and surgical services, Hochul must know that abortion tourism will bring a financial windfall to abortion providers in her state—and the politicians who support them.  

Medical tourism is nothing new. In the past, however, it referred to those who traveled from less-developed countries to major medical centers in highly developed countries—usually the United States—for superior treatment that was unavailable at home. More recently, medical tourism referred to those from developed countries—like the United States—who traveled to developing countries for more affordable medical treatment. For example, prior to the recent expansion of the availability and affordability of sex-change surgery in the United States, Thailand had been the most popular medical tourism destination for those desiring low-cost transgender surgery. Websites like “Transgender Thailand” claim to be the “destination of choice” for sex-reassignment surgeries and offer “highly competitive” all-inclusive travel packages including airfare, hotel, and hospital services.  

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Abortion tourism emerged in 1970, during the years prior to Roe v. Wade, when New York State repealed all laws criminalizing abortion. By 1972, more than 100,000 women traveled to New York City for abortions; more than half of them traveled more than 500 miles from their home states to terminate the lives of their unborn children. New York quickly became the national destination of choice for abortion. 

Even after Roe v. Wade, New York continued to be the abortion tourism destination for women living in states where abortion was more difficult or expensive to procure. The financial benefits to the abortion industry—and to their pro-abortion politician enablers—in New York State will be tremendous. But, as my own 2015 Crisis article points out, “Greed has always Driven the Abortion Industry.”

Abortion policy and enforcement in New York City has always been driven by greed. The infamous abortion provider Madame Restell owned a network of abortion parlors in the late 1800s that began from her primary facility in a house on Chambers Street and extended all the way across the river to Hoboken. In the early days, she was joined in New York City’s burgeoning abortion business by dozens of other abortionists who were luridly described in New York’s Police Gazette as “fiends who have made a business of professional murder.” Restell was just the first to parlay the provision of abortion services into a personal fortune of more than a million dollars and a lavish Fifth Avenue brownstone described in the tabloids of the day as the “Mansion Built on Baby’s Skulls.”    

In Abortion Rites: A Social History of Abortion in America, Marvin Olasky—this year’s recipient of the Great Defender of Life Award given by The Human Life Review—wrote that Restell used her “audacious sales technique” to entice clients and bribe politicians and police officers. So successful was Restell at evading any attempts to curtail abortion in New York City that, within a short time, the abortion laws actually had the effect of “sweeping every rival from her path.”  With the competition at bay, Restell ruled New York City’s abortion empire for several decades.  There was so much money in the abortion industry that Restell was happy to share some of her profits to buy the cooperation of police and politicians. 

Like Restell, entrepreneur Larry Lader recognized the potential profits in the abortion industry. In the late 1960s, he partnered with his friend and Greenwich Village neighbor Dr. Bernard Nathanson, a gynecologist and abortion provider in New York City, to become the true leaders of the movement in New York. For Lader, the abortion business was always about profits, and both he and Nathanson became very wealthy from their abortion business. Savvy marketers, Lader and Nathanson were the first to market abortion tourism in the city. And like Restell, Lader and Nathanson were effective political players and lobbyists for what quickly became their abortion empire. Abortion tourism played the most important part in all of this.   

Forgotten were the casualties of abortion tourism—the thousands of unborn children who were aborted and the countless women whose lives were destroyed by their decision to travel to New York City to terminate the lives of their own children. Documented in depressing detail in the 1976 book In Necessity and Sorrow: Life and Death in an Abortion Hospital, by Magda Denes, readers learn about the real costs of abortion tourism. 

Long out of print, the book is an honest portrayal of the brutality of the abortion industry. To her credit, Denes—a pro-choice psychiatrist who had chosen to abort her own child during those heady pro-abortion days in New York City—seemed shocked at the horrific conditions she observed during the several months she spent observing the activities and procedures that occurred in one of those abortion-tourist destinations in the City of New York. 

Interviewing young women in the process of abortion, Denes describes the sorrow these women experienced. In one chapter, called “The Saline Floor,” she describes the activities on the saline floor which was reserved for late term abortions. She provides readers with the heartbreaking stories of these young women and their parents and boyfriends who traveled with them from small towns throughout the country. And although the stories of the women are indeed heartbreaking, the true tragedy emerges when Denes witnesses the actual abortions on that late-term abortion floor. She writes: 

I was drawn to the unit, irresistible by my reactions of disbelief, sorrow, horror, compassion, guilt. The place depresses me yet I hang around after working hours. When I leave, I behave outside with the expansiveness of one who has just escaped a disaster. I have bad dreams. My sense of complicity in something nameless grows and festers. I consider giving up the research.

Fortunately for those who need to be reminded of what abortion is all about, Denes overcomes her fear and her guilt over her own abortion long enough to continue to document the real victims of abortion tourism when she describes what she saw in the operating room following an abortion: 

I remove with one hand the lid of a bucket…I look inside the bucket in front of me. There is a small naked person in there floating in a bloody liquid—plainly the tragic victim of a drowning accident. But then perhaps this was no accident because the body is purple with bruises and the face has the agonized tautness of one forced to die too soon. Death overtakes me in a rush of madness.

If Governor Kathy Hochul were invited to spend a few hours witnessing late term abortions in an abortion clinic, she may not feel quite so optimistic about the future of abortion tourism in her state. Like Magda Denes, she would be reminded of her contributions to the culture of death. She would have to confront her own complicity in the deaths of these unborn children. But that is the real problem with abortion tourism. What sounds like an “escape,” a guilt-free getaway, is far from what is promised in the “Lady Liberty” welcome that is issued by Governor Hochul. 

Other states are sure to try and replicate the experience. In fact, the Orlando Women’s Center in Florida is already marketing abortion tourism on its website in a section called: “Medical Abortion Circumvention Tourism: Why the Controversy?” Promising an easy abortion process—and a vacation in Florida at the same time—they anticipate that women will be drawn to what the Orlando Women’s Center calls the “most popular State for Tourists and Vacationers from around the world.”

As Denes reminds us: 

The striated nature of reality is nowhere on earth more evident than on the OR floor [of the abortion hospital]. The pride of purpose, the vanity of achievement, the greed for money, the sense of doom, the smell of blood, the monotony of habit, the terror of death combine to form a microcosm of contingency where each is tested and each is demanded from.

Governor Hochul’s breezy invitation to women to come to New York City to terminate the lives of their unborn children is not about empowerment—it is about death and political profits. No one who has experienced an abortion or witnessed a late-term abortion remains untouched by the deadly act they participated in. This has nothing to do with tourism in Orlando, Florida, or the “Big Apple.” Rather, it has everything to do with the killing of unborn children for profit in what will soon become known as the “abortion states.” The politicians who lead these deadly states will pay a heavy price. The Catholic Governor Hochul needs to be reminded of this.   

[Photo Credit: Unsplash]


  • Anne Hendershott

    Anne Hendershott is Professor of Sociology and Director of the Veritas Center for Ethics in Public Life at Franciscan University of Steubenville, OH. She is the author of The Politics of Envy (Crisis Publications, 2020).

tagged as: Politics

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