PHOENIX — Fewer abortions were performed in Arizona in 2014 than in the prior three years, new figures released Monday show.
But abortion-rights advocates and foes of the procedure have sharply different reasons to explain the numbers. And they don’t agree on which numbers are the most significant.
The report from the Arizona Department of Health Services shows 12,900 abortions were performed last year. That’s down 501 from 2013 — and more than 1,500 less than in 2011.
Cathi Herrod, president of the anti-abortion Center for Arizona Policy, said the figures mirror a change in public attitudes.
“The abortion numbers reflect what we see happening throughout the country, that America is becoming an increasingly pro-life country,” she said. “Americans, Arizonans included, recognize that abortion is not the solution to an unwanted or a surprise pregnancy.”
But Bryan Howard, president of Planned Parenthood Arizona, pointed out that the number of abortions actually increased among residents of the state’s urban areas, with the net decline due to rural numbers.
He blames a change in Arizona law — at the Center for Arizona Policy’s behest — for a 24-hour waiting period. That means two in-person visits to a clinic.
Howard said that’s not a huge hurdle for women who live in the same city where abortions are performed. “If you’re living in a rural county and you have to do that, that presents much more substantial challenge,” he said.
Howard said it’s not that women in rural areas are having less sex or even getting pregnant less often.
Instead, he said, they’re using emergency contraception, whether it’s the “morning-after pill” or an intrauterine device, both of which can block a fertilized egg from implanting.
“It’s neither an abortion nor is it a live birth,” Howard said, which means the numbers do not show up in the health department report.
Herrod, however, rejected the contention that any of the laws her organization has helped push through the Legislature amount to hurdles for women who want an abortion.
“The pro-life laws give women information they need to make a decision about whether or not to have an abortion,” she said. And Herrod said that includes the 24-hour waiting period.
“There are very few medical procedures that you would call, make the appointment, get the diagnosis and have the procedure in one day or in one appointment,” she said.
Herrod said the law requires an in-person consultation with the doctor, an ultrasound examination and being told ahead of time about the risks and alternatives to abortion.
It may soon include something else for women undergoing a medication abortion: being told that the procedure may be reversible after the first drug is given but before the second. That law, approved earlier this year, is on hold until a federal judge hears arguments next week about its legality.
A separate court is weighing another CAP-sponsored law to limit medication abortions to just the first seven weeks of pregnancy, requiring a surgical procedure after that, instead of the common practice through nine weeks. Federal courts have so far blocked the state from enforcing that until there can be a full trial.