Cause of abortions drop in state disputed
The number of abortions in Arizona is down - sharply - in the wake of new laws restricting the procedure.
Figures provided by the state health department show 729 pregnancies were terminated medically last month. That compares to 1,069 the month before - and an average of more than 1,200 a month in the prior year.
Those new laws include prohibitions on abortions by anyone other than a doctor and requiring a woman to have a face-to-face conversation with a doctor at least 24 hours before the procedure.
They were pushed through by the Center for Arizona Policy. Cathi Herrod, president of the organization, said at the time the regulations were necessary to ensure that women undergoing the procedure were not placed in danger.
But Herrod has made no secret that one of her goals is to limit the number of abortions. And she said more legislation is planned to place further roadblocks in the path of women who want to terminate their pregnancies.
“Our CAP Policy Team is assessing what else can be done to protect women and preborn children,'' Herrod said in a newsletter to supporters. “And I hope you rejoice with us that lives are being saved.''
Herrod refused to provide details.
“You're not getting anything out of me,'' she said.
“We've not made any final decisions,'' Herrod continued. “We'll be working with legislative leadership and pro-life legislators to determine the next step.''
Herrod said the sharp drop is a direct result of the requirement for the consultation 24 hours ahead of time and statutory requirements of what they have to be told, including an offer to see the ultrasound of the fetus.
“When women are given information about the gestational age of their preborn child, the risks of the abortion procedure, the alternatives that are available, more women choose life,'' she said.
But Bryan Howard, president of Planned Parenthood Arizona, said the real reason is because his organization's nurse practitioners, who were performing about half of all abortions, are now precluded from doing the work. He said there are just not enough doctors in Arizona who are both trained to do the work and willing to do it, what with protestors outside the clinics and, in at least the case of one nurse-practitioner in Flagstaff, outside her home.
Howard said his proof is that Planned Parenthood has always offered to let patients see an ultrasound. And Arizona law has required a 24-hour waiting period for women for more than a year, though until now the pre-procedure consultation could be done by phone and with someone other than a doctor.
He said the percentage of women who complete the process after they have started it has remained the same.
That leaves only one big change: The ban on nurse-practitioners performing medical abortions, where a pregnancy is terminated by giving a woman certain drugs.
“It's 100 percent due to the shortage of providers,'' Howard said. Now he said doctors must perform both surgical and medical abortions as well as be available for those face-to-face consultations.
The new regulations, which took effect last month, has resulted in Planned Parenthood now offering abortions only in Glendale, Tempe and one of the organization's two Tucson sites. Abortions had previously been available at 10 sites around the state.
Planned Parenthood is the state's largest abortion provider. Howard said 653 of the 729 abortions in September were performed by Planned Parenthood.
And the number of abortions could drop even more this month: The new regulations did not take effect until about 10 days into September.
Howard took particular offense to Herrod's newsletter mentioning the reduction in abortions, saying she was “gloating'' about it.
He pointed out that, prior to last month, there were about 1,200 abortions performed in Arizona each month, compared to fewer than 800 last month.
“That means something like 400 have had their life substantially disrupted,'' he said.
Howard said some may have left the state to get care or found other doctors who perform “off-the-record'' abortions. But other women, he said, are going to have to carry the pregnancy to term.
“It means that 400 real children at the end of those pregnancies are going to be born into families that may have, at very realistic levels, said that, ‘We can't afford another mouth to feed,' or ‘I can't afford child care,' ‘' Howard said.
CAP has generally found a receptive audience for its anti-abortion measures. But for years most of them were vetoed by Gov. Janet Napolitano.
She, however, quit in January 2009 to become homeland security chief in the Obama administration. And her successor, Jan Brewer, is on record as wanting to outlaw abortion except to save the life of the mother or in cases of rape and incest.