AZ reports 25 percent rise in '11 abortions

Official unsure if stats show more procedures or better reporting
2012-09-18T00:00:00Z AZ reports 25 percent rise in '11 abortionsHoward Fischer Capitol Media Services Arizona Daily Star
September 18, 2012 12:00 am  • 

PHOENIX - A new report shows a sharp increase in the number of Arizona women having abortions last year.

Figures from the Department of Health Services put total abortions for Arizona women at 13,606 - a 25 percent jump from 2010.

It's also the highest figure in the last decade, equal to 16 abortions for every 100 live births.

But state health director Will Humble said he isn't sure if there were really more pregnancies terminated in 2011 than before or if his agency, armed with a new law that took effect in mid-2010, is just getting better data.

Humble said one thing is clear: The number of teens getting pregnant in the first place continues to drop.

What's more, Humble said, the number of teen abortions actually is shrinking, even in the face of better reporting.

The report also reveals there were 188 abortions performed in Arizona last year to women who were at least in their 20th week of their pregnancy, about 1.4 percent of the total.

The number is significant because state lawmakers voted earlier this year to ban all abortions beyond the 19th week of gestation, as measured from a woman's last menstrual cycle, unless necessary to prevent a woman's death or "substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function."

A federal judge blocked the state from enforcing the law to give foes a chance to argue the ban is unconstitutional because the cutoff is before viability, generally determined to be between 22 and 24 weeks. The state is now asking the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn that ruling.

But the raw statistics - and the one-year jump - has both sides of the issue scratching their heads and wondering what, if anything, it means.

"We will be analyzing the data reported to determine its value," said Cathi Herrod, president of the anti-abortion Center for Arizona Policy. She said given the change in the reporting, the 2011 figures may be meaningful only when compared with the numbers for 2012.

But Herrod said the pure numbers - which actually top 14,000 when including residents of other states that have abortions in Arizona - are "tragic."

Bryan Howard, president of Planned Parenthood Arizona, focused on other elements in the report.

He said his conclusion is that abortion "continues to be an extremely safe medical service," with only 60 recorded complications among the 13,606 Arizona women. And he said more than 90 percent of all abortions are performed in the first trimester.

Humble said the old records system essentially involved abortion providers filing paper reports. He said that often led to problems keeping track of data.

The new system, he said, requires clinics and doctors to file electronic reports. Humble said that mandate, coupled with better training of abortion providers and their staffs, should mean better data from now on to make comparisons.

Still, Humble said there are some valid comparisons that can be made.

The big one, he said, deals with teens.

In 2000, for example, he said that more than 20 percent of abortions were performed on those younger than age 20. By this past year, he said, that figure had dropped to just slightly more than 13 percent, which continues a trend of declining teen pregnancy rates over the decade.

That's reflected in the pure numbers for teen abortions.

In 2009, there were 1,785 abortions for those younger than 20. That dropped to 1,512 in 2010. For last year, even with enhanced reporting, the number of teen abortions reported went up by just seven.

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