PHOENIX — Fewer women got abortions in Arizona last year than the year before, and new restrictions imposed by lawmakers appear to be at least part of the reason for that.
New figures from the state Department of Health Services show 13,041 pregnancies by Arizona women were terminated. That compares with 13,606 the year before.
Both figures are far higher than anything in the prior decade, but the state changed its data collection procedures in late 2010, making the numbers not comparable.
Aaron Baer, spokesman for the anti-abortion Center for Arizona Policy, said the drop — about 4.1 percent among Arizona residents — stems from what he said is a “thriving pro-life movement in Arizona.” That includes work by crisis pregnancy centers whose aim is to convince women not to have an abortion.
But there also are a host of regulations and restrictions lawmakers have adopted during the past few years, and even Planned Parenthood President Bryan Howard conceded those have made at least some difference.
“The data shows that new regulations, including multiple in-person visits required for care, are taking a bigger toll on rural Arizona women,” he said in a prepared statement.
That is a direct outgrowth of a requirement for a medical doctor to perform all abortions. Prior to that, medical abortions — terminating a pregnancy with drugs — could be handled by a specially trained nurse practitioner.
The result was Planned Parenthood no longer offers abortions at its rural Arizona clinics.
Baer called it a “common-sense” reform, saying the drug can lead to complications for women.
“It's just right that they should have a doctor administer this pill to them,” he said.
But that change comes in concert with a separate law that requires a 24-hour waiting period between consultation and abortion. And that, said Howard, works a particular hardship on those who do not live near either of the state's two metropolitan areas where doctors are available and abortions are still performed.
State Health Director Will Humble said it's his agency's job solely to track the numbers. But he said there are probably some factors at work that neither side in the abortion debate is considering.
One, he said, is that a lot fewer teens are getting pregnant, with the pregnancy rate of that age group dropping about 35 percent in the last six years. Fewer pregnancies, he said, translates to fewer teens having an abortion.
Humble said potentially a bigger factor is Plan B, also known as the “morning-after pill.” It provides a high dose of hormones that either prevent a woman from ovulating or preventing a fertilized egg from implanting in the womb.
And now, he noted, the drug is available over the counter.
“One of the impacts that you'll see is fewer abortions being tracked in our surveillance report because, A, there was never a counted pregnancy to begin with because there was never a diagnosis of pregnancy, and, B, obviously, they're not getting counted as an abortion,” he said.
And none of that has anything to do with state legislation.
There are a couple of pending legislative issues, though, that might affect future reports. One is a state law that denies Medicaid family planning funds to any organization that also performs abortions.
Both state and federal law already ban the use of public dollars for abortions that are not medically necessary, but proponents of this measure, approved in 2012, contend those Medicaid dollars indirectly subsidize then procedure.
That law, however, remains unenforceable following a federal court ruling. The issue is now on appeal.
That same year legislators approved another measure which effectively bans abortions after the 19th week of pregnancy. But that, too, was enjoined by a federal judge and also is being appealed.
The effect of that law might have on the overall rate, however, is probably minimal: Only 186 of the abortions performed in Arizona last year were in cases where the fetus was at least 20 weeks.
One new statistic in this year's report looks not only at the abortion rate — the number of abortions according to the number of women of child-bearing age — but the abortion ratio. That measures abortions against live births.
“It's an interesting way to look at the data,” Humble said. “It really analyzes of those women who got pregnant what did they decide to do.”
So in Pima County, for example, for every 1,000 women who decided to give birth, another 184 opted to terminate their pregnancy.