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February 10, 2014

Area sees drop in abortion rates

Change mirrors national study findings

By Jessica Reynolds Staff Writer
The Daily Star

---- — John Pasquale, an occupational therapist from Livingston Manor, said he was 19 and living in New York City in 1988 when his girlfriend became pregnant and decided to have an abortion. Today, it’s an option fewer and fewer women are choosing, according to a recent study published by Guttmacher Institute.

That was 26 years ago, but the hasty decision still bothers Pasquale, he said. His girlfriend’s procedures was one of 1.3 million legal abortions reported to the Centers for Disease Control that year, 15 years after the landmark case Roe v. Wade legalized abortion in 1973.

Today, abortion rates are the lowest in 40 years, according to the Guttmacher Institute study, titled “Abortion Incidence and Service Availability in the United States, 2011.” The study shows that abortion rates, which were previously at a plateau, decreased by 13 percent between 2008 and 2011.

According to the study, the 2011 national abortion rate was 16.9 abortions per 1,000 women aged 15 to 44, the lowest since 1973. This 40-year low is not just a national trend, but can also be seen locally.

According to the state Department of Health, the abortion rates for Otsego, Delaware and Schoharie counties have decreased significantly recently, particularly since 2008. The number of abortions per 100 live births steadily decreased in Otsego County, from 27.6 in 2002 to 25.1 in 2008, to 23.4 in 2011. In Schoharie County, this number decreased from 32.6 in 2009 to 24.7 in 2011. Delaware County’s abortion ratio decreased from 28.2 in 2008 to 23 in 2011.

Local pro-life and pro-choice advocates had differing opinions on what caused this recent decline in abortion rates.

Pasquale said he believes the decline is because more individuals are researching the procedure and seeing its negative effects.

“People are looking into it and educating themselves,” Pasquale said, “and discovering how destructive abortion is.”

Pasquale said his then-girlfriend decided to have an abortion despite his convictions regarding the act. He said he went with his girlfriend to a clinic and paid for the procedure, but the aftermath, he said, stayed with him long after the couple left the clinic that day.

“The abortion was devastating,” Pasquale said, “It put stress on our relationship and resulted in a great deal of fighting. It tore us apart. She didn’t give me a chance to even try to change her mind,” Pasquale said.

Pasquale said he doesn’t believe the young woman would have gone through with the procedure if there had been counseling available to talk her through the situation, or if there had been a waiting period between counseling and the procedure.

Pasquale said he believes one factor that has not aided in the decline of abortions is Family Planning.

“It should be defunded completely,” Pasquale said. “I also don’t think tax money should be spent on abortions. I feel bad for men and women who feel abortion is their only option.”

Rachel Jones, lead author of the Guttmacher Institute study, said two factors she found to be unrelated to the decline were recent national abortion restriction laws and decrease in providers.

“Of the 106 new abortion restrictions implemented during the study period, few or none appeared to be related to state-level patterns in abortion rates or number of providers … no evidence was found that the overall drop in abortion incidence was related to the decrease in providers or to restrictions implemented between 2008 and 2011,” the study said.

Instead, Jones said, the decline can be attributed to a steep national drop in overall pregnancy and birth rates and an improved use of contraceptives. She said couples may be avoiding or delaying pregnancy because of the recession’s lingering effects.

Debra Marcus, chief executive officer of Family Planning of South Central New York, echoed this sentiment.

“People are being more responsible and thinking about the cost of raising a child,” Marcus said.

Marcus said she also believes the decline demonstrates the affordability and accessibility of contraceptives. Reasonably priced birth control is provided for more than 10,000 patients a year at Family Planning, Marcus said. She said this is what the bulk of patients come into Family Planning — formerly a part of the Planned Parenthood organization — for.

The availability of reasonably priced emergency contraceptives, such as Plan B, is another reason for decline in abortion rates, Marcus said. She said she also believes comprehensive sexual education provided in schools has contributed to the decline.

Marcus said legislative obstacles hindering access to abortion have been passed in other states, such as Texas. These restrictions include the lowering of gestational limits, requiring pre-abortion ultrasounds, a 24-hour waiting period and what are referred to as TRAP restrictions, or targeted regulation of abortion providers. These restrictions mandate that hallways in abortion clinics must be a certain width and that doctors have to have admitting privileges to the local hospital.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, New York does not have any of the major types of abortion restrictions that are often found in other states, such as waiting periods, mandated parental involvement or limitations on publicly funded abortions, so restrictions can be ruled out as reason for the decline.

In an effort to remove any barriers blocking women’s health, Marcus said, Family Planning has Saturday and evening appointments available. Marcus said women who come into the facility are encouraged to get a full health exam. She said the facility also provides life-saving cancer screenings. Contrary to popular belief, one thing Family Planning does not provide, Marcus said, is an actual abortion.

According to the Guttmacher Institute Study, the national number of abortion providers declined four percent in 2011 and the number of clinics dropped one percent. In 2011, 89 percent of counties had no clinics, and 38 percent of women of reproductive age lived in those counties, the study said.

Marcus said the provider of choice in and around upstate New York is the office of Dr. Amy Cousins at Access for Women, formerly Southern Tier Women’s Services. The clinic, located near Binghamton, serves much of upstate New York. 

Peg Johnston, director of Access for Women, said the clinic performs 35 to 40 abortions a week. Johnston said the clinic serves within a 100-mile radius, including Otsego and Delaware counties.

“We are a friendly, competent clinic and we can get patients in quickly,” Johnston said. “We are focused on how to safely perform abortions and offer women compassionate care.”

Any woman, regardless of age, can request an abortion at the clinic without the consent of parents, guardian, or spouse, per New York state law. The clinic also sells emergency contraception for about $30, according to its website.

Johnston said she believes the decline in abortion could be because of better use of birth control, declining birth rates, or even because of effects from the Affordable Care Act. She said half of all pregnancies are unintended, and half of these end in abortion. Johnston was a past chair of the Abortion Care Network, whose goal is to eliminate the stigma surrounding abortion.

Johnston said at least once a week anti-abortion individuals gather outside the clinic and protest.

“I think these people are not putting themselves in the shoes of the women,” Johnston said.

Jean Jones of Afton, a pro-life advocate, said she believes the decline in abortion is because of an increase in this kind of protesting. She said she frequently sees protests on the Eternal Word Television Network, enjoys taking students on bus trips to the March of Lights and has an anti-abortion booth at the Afton Fair.

“More and more information is getting out,” Jones said, “Medical technology shows it is more than a blob of tissue. Family Planning is deceiving and takes a liberal slant, but abortion means taking the life of a baby. Studies show that you can see the heart beating and that the baby repels against the abortion instrument.”

Jones also said she believes abortion is on the decline because many women who have been through the experience regret it and tell their friends about their regret. She also cited faith as a reason for the decline.

“I think God is finally answering the prayers of pro-life groups,” Jones said.

Jean Naples, president of Central New York Coalition for Life, said she is happy about the decline in abortion and believes it is a result of increased education.

“People are going through it and telling others. The dirt is being uncovered and people are seeing the horror of abortion. With awareness campaigns like ‘Silent No More,’ we are getting the word out that abortion is a bad product.”

Naples said her work with Central New York Coalition for Life is focused on education, especially of young people. She said she also takes students to the March for Life in Washington, D.C.

Naples also said the local lack of abortion providers is helping decrease abortions. She said she believes many older doctors who regularly performed abortions are dying and younger ones, who are replacing them, are uncomfortable with performing the procedure.

Naples said she does not believe the work Family Planning does has contributed to the decline of abortions.

“They say they’re out to decrease the number of abortions, but they’re not,” Naples said. “They refer women to abortion clinics … and birth control and Plan B are abortion too.”

Marcus said she believes the work being done at Family Planning is significant and will continue to help provide women with healthy options.

“We hope that if we continue to do our job,” Marcus said, “the abortion rates will continue to go down.”

Drop in abortions per 100 live births, 2008-11 -1.7 Otsego County -5.2 Delaware County -7.9 Schoharie County* *2009-11