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Sun, Dec. 08

Fewer abortions in Arizona as new laws take hold

PHOENIX - The number of abortions performed in Arizona dropped by about a third in September after new state laws tightened restrictions and requirements.

The new restrictions and requirements took effect in August and September, and preliminary state figures indicate 729 abortions were performed in September. That's down nearly 31 percent from September 2010, down nearly 32 percent from August 2011 and down 39 percent from the previous 12-month average of just over 1,200.

Planned Parenthood Arizona CEO Bryan Howard said availability of abortion services is reduced mainly because of a new law requiring all abortion facilities to have physicians involved in medication abortions previously performed only by physicians' assistants. A separate law also prohibited nurse practitioners from performing surgical abortions.

Planned Parenthood Arizona since August has dropped abortion services at seven of its 10 locations statewide, including all three clinics in cities outside the Phoenix and Tucson areas.

Abortion opponent Cathi Herrod of the Center for Arizona Policy hailed the reduction as "simply incredible."

Herrod's group lobbied for passage of the laws, which include a 2009 clinic regulation law and a 2011 law that expanded on the 2009 measure. Its implementation was delayed until a state appeals court upheld its constitutionality in August.

Herrod acknowledged that Planned Parenthood's scaling back of its operations "would certainly have an impact" but she also said new so-called "informed consent" provisions requiring physicians to tell women about risks and alternatives also are having an impact.

"We're seeing a quick impact of the informed consent law going into effect," Herrod said. "We're very hopeful that the trend will continue but time will tell."

When given more information, "they will choose life instead of abortion," she said.

Howard, the Planned Parenthood CEO, denied that the informed consent provisions had any impact, saying his organization had seen no drop-off in women following through with appointments for abortions.

"The bottom line is we've lost the capacity to provide the care," he said. "This is not about the need going away."

Added Howard: "This is nothing to gloat about."

Arizona requires abortion providers to submit reports to the Department of Health Services. DHS spokeswoman Laura Oxley said officials had no information on why there were fewer abortions in September.

Arizona's new abortion laws are part of a wave of restrictions that have seen other states adopt a variety of measures, though impacts appear to be unclear or too early to measure.

The number of abortions in Nebraska fell nearly 10 percent in the first six months of 2011, compared with the first six months of 2010, after a groundbreaking state law that was enacted last October banned virtually all abortions after five months of pregnancy.

Abortion opponents attributed the decrease to the law but acknowledged that its exact impact was hard to measure because the state previously adopted other abortion laws.

Kansas is implementing a new law prohibiting coverage of abortions in general insurance policies but policies are only affected as they come up for renewal. Meanwhile, new Kansas laws on clinic regulations and defunding Planned Parenthood have been blocked by federal judges from being enforced.

Kansas also has a law prohibiting late term abortions, but no Kansas clinics perform late term procedures. One clinic that did was closed when an anti-abortion activist killed Dr. George Tiller in 2009. That likely was a major factor in a decrease in statewide abortion numbers since 2008.

In Arizona, Howard said Planned Parenthood is struggling to recruit and train physicians to rebuild its services to previous levels "best case" by next March. But that is difficult because of a general shortage of appropriately trained physicians and because of harassment of those who do perform abortions.

Howard said the September drop would have been even lower except that the physicians-only requirement didn't legally hold until about 10 days into the month, allowing non-doctors to continue to perform some steps now restricted only to physicians.

One impact of the reduced availability of abortions means some women's abortions will be delayed past when they can have medication abortions, leaving surgical procedures as their only abortion option, Howard said.

Planned Parenthood is studying the laws' impact and hopes to release data in the future, he said.

The non-metro area cities where Planned Parenthood dropped abortion services are in Yuma, Prescott Valley and Flagstaff. Those facilities still provide other services, including preventative care.

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