The number of abortions performed in Tennessee declined even as the state remained a destination for out-of-state women traveling here to end their pregnancies, according to new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Tennessee mirrored the nation in the declining abortion trend. Nationally, abortion rates that had remained steady for several years dropped 5 percent to an all-time low in 2009, according to the data released last week.
In Tennessee, the number of abortions fell 4 percent from 2008 to 2009 - from 18,253 to 17,474 - after several years in which they climbed slightly.
But Tennessee remained a standout as a destination for abortions, with 23 percent of all abortions performed here in 2009 sought by women who lived elsewhere. Only three other states and the District of Columbia saw a larger share.
A Tennessean special report, Abortion in Tennessee, chronicled the changes in the abortion landscape of the South in the past decade that transformed Tennessee into a large abortion provider.
As neighboring states enacted increasing abortion restrictions - rules such as waiting periods or mandatory ultrasounds - clinics in those states closed and Tennessee abortion clinics served more women from out of state, some advertising discount specials for out-of-towners to cover the cost of gas.
In 2014, driven by a decade of activism by pro-life advocates, Tennessee voters will decide whether to amend the constitution to strip away the abortion protections that have made Tennessee a standout state for abortion rights in an increasingly abortion-hostile South.
Changes are already under way that could affect Tennessee's future as an abortion-friendly state.
In August, the Volunteer Women's Medical Center in Knoxville closed after 38 years, citing a new state law that requires doctors to hold admitting privileges at local hospitals.
Statewide pro-choice advocates have begun to organize for the ballot fight ahead. A loose coalition of abortion clinic operators, women's rights activists and others held an organizing meeting in October.
State pro-life advocates have focused their energies on supporting pro-life candidates in the recent election, but have said in the past that the 2014 ballot fight is their No. 1 priority.
Last week, Tennessee Right to Life made a renewed call for Tennessee residents to reconsider the state's "radical" abortion policy when it issued a statement about emerging revelations that pro-life Rep. Scott DesJarlais' former wife had had two abortions with his consent and support.