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New reporting requirements make Arizona abortion numbers appear higher but closer analysis shows drop after new laws

by | Sep 20, 2012

By Randall K. O’Bannon, Ph.D., NRL-ETF Director of Education & Research

Randall K. O’Bannon, Ph.D.

When Jan Brewer took over the Arizona governor’s office in 2009 after the ascension of Janet Napolitano to the Obama cabinet as Secretary for Homeland Security, it was a chance for a lot of backed up pro-life legislation to finally see the light of day.

The Arizona legislature took advantage of the opportunity to pass a number of bills, which included outlawing sex selection abortion, an ultrasound viewing law, a law limiting the performance of abortion to licensed physicians, a right to know law that insured that women were informed of abortion’s risk, alternatives, and fetal development, and its version of the pain-capable unborn child protection act. All were signed by GOP Governor Brewer.

So when the media this week reported a sudden sharp increase in Arizona abortions from 2010 to 2011, it took a lot of people by surprise (including pro-abortionists).  The latest numbers reported by the Arizona Department of Health Services showed that there were 14,438 abortions for 2011. They reported 11,438 in 2010.

While the official numbers  do show a nearly 26% increase, a closer look reveals that, in fact, the real number may actually have gone down as much as 7.3%!

A reporter for the International Business Times (9/18/12) insinuated that cuts made to government social services and a failure to invest more in family planning played a role in bumping up the numbers. But even the local Planned Parenthood affiliate wasn’t buying that.

Cynde Cerf, a Planned Parenthood spokesperson told the Arizona Daily Sun that abortion numbers over the past few years had remained fairly constant (Arizona Daily Sun, 9/18/12).

A more complete examination of the data and the circumstances does, in fact, indicate there may have been a decrease. The key to understanding the confusion is that it wasn’t until a new law–Senate Bill 1304– took effect in the summer of 2010 that abortion providers were required to

electronically furnish more complete data on the number of abortions they were performing.

The official state reports measure abortions for each year, January through December. But SB1304, which included a revamped reporting system that captured more abortions, only went into effect in August 2010.

In other words, data for 2011 included a full year with the more rigorous electronic reporting system, while more than half of 2010 used the old paper system.

State Health Director Will Humble told the Arizona Daily Sun that rather than demonstrating any real increase, the numbers in the latest official state report may simply indicate the state is getting better data.

Humble said that the old system, with abortion clinics and private abortionists filed paper reports, often led to problems in tracking the data. The new electronic system may have yielded more reporting, better reporting, and fewer abortions slipping through the bureaucratic cracks.

Given that, the sudden jump in numbers after the implementation of the new system is less surprising.

Tracking the data farther out actually shows a different trend.  An independent analysis of the state data by the Center for Arizona Policy, a group who has worked closely with Arizona Right to Life, specifically compared the first twelve months with the electronic system with the year following, when several new pro-life measures kicked in.

From August 2010 to July 2011, Arizona health department data showed 14,706 abortions, about 3,000 more than the state had been recording in previous years.  But from August 2011 to July of 2012, that number was 13,627–more than had been reported in the days of the paper records, but 7.3% less than what had been recorded the year before under the the new electronic system.

While the electronic system went in place in August of 2010, other elements of pro-life legislation didn’t begin to be enforced until August of 2011.  At that point, abortionists had to consult with the mother face to face at least 24 hours before the abortion (rather than counsel her over the phone) and abortions could no longer be performed by nurse practitioners. 

The Yuma Sun reports that after that last change in the law, Planned Parenthood announced that it would no longer be offering abortion at seven of its 10 Arizona locations (9/19/20).  The availability of chemical abortions has allowed Planned Parenthood to expand abortion services to many smaller non-surgical centers nationwide.

There are lessons to be learned here.  Large, sudden single year increases (or decreases) may not be real.  Other factors, like better reporting, may be involved.   Pay attention to the implementation dates of legislation, and look to longer term trends to determine whether or not some change in the law or the cultural landscape is having an impact.

And be wary of any columnist or commentator who suddenly becomes an abortion statistics expert and seizes upon such raw, unanalyzed data, like some have done in past elections, to argue that a given policy or political candidate, despite their pro-life credentials, actually increases abortions.

As can be seen from a closer, more careful examination of the data, as you can already begin to see here, if allowed to have full effect and unhindered by some push for new abortion clinics or methods, the pro-life laws put in place in Arizona will show more lives being saved.

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Categories: Legislation